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The Revelations of 

Dft. MODESTO 


Hal Hingham was an unsuccessful insurance 
salesman. His job filled *him with panic, his 
girl left him cold and his landlady’s efforts to 
lead him into temptation only annoyed him. 
So when he saw an advertisement saying: 
‘STO- 1 WHY ARE YOU UNHAPPY? FAILURE ? 
tr\ centralism’ he decided to do just that, 
and wrote tor the pamphlet. 

Dr Modesto’s system of Centralism turned 
out to be as effective as the pamphlet claimed. 
It taught Hal to be more average than anyone, 
whereupon he instantly became successful In 
every way. Had he known where to stop he 
would have been happy to the end of his days; 
but forgetting Dr Modesto’s warning against 
being too good at anything, even Centralism 
itself, Hal went too far. He was whirled 
away into a series of breathless picaresque 
adventures and ended in desperation when he 
tried to get an interview with the great Dr 
Modesto in person, only to find . . . 

What he found must not be revealed. It is 
the sting in the tail of this extremely enter- 
taining satirical novel. 




The Revelations 

of 

DU. MODESTO 


Alan Harrington 



SHUT PUBLISHED 1917 BY 
i^NDRE DEUTSCH LIMITED 
<^j ALAN HARRINGTON I917 
LONDON W I 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY 
D. R. HILLMAN AND SONS LIMITED 
PROBE SOMERSET 



Contents 


Part One 

i The Failure, 3 
11 The Old Story, 9 
hi Swan Boats at Twilight, 12 

iv A Glimmer of Hope, 16 

v Fred Purdy and the Misfit, 23 

vi A Message from Nebraska, 28 

THE CONFESSIONS OF DR. MODESTO [1], J1 
THE CONFESSIONS OF DR. MODESTO [2], 39 
THE CONFESSIONS OF DR. MODESTO [3]: 

THE DOCTRINE OF CENTRALISM, 47 

vii A New Life, 35 

viii Exterminator at Work , 56 
hc In the Center, 61 

x Spring Practice, 65 

xi Waiting for an Undistinguished Lover, 72 

xii The Love-Date, 79 

xiii The Centralist's Walk . 85 

xiv The Rape of Bradford, 92 

xv Rewards of Faith, 99 

Part Two 

xvi The Athletic Crowd, 107 

xvii The Death of Jiujitsu, 121 



Contents 

xviii The Human Fly, 124 

xix Merko, 133 

xx The Life of an Individualist, 137 

xxi Hal and Mefko, 149 

xxii July in Boston, 159 

xxm Plans for September and Business Love- 
Making, 163 

.xxiv Deserted by Dr. Modesto, 171 

xxv The Love-Date ( 2 ), 173 

xxvi Joan and Merko, 178 

xxvii Merko Makes It, 186 

Part Three 

xxviii The Depths of August, 193 

xxix How My Life is Spent, 197 

xxx On the Train, 204 

xxxi The Tercentenary Parade, 207 

xxxii Back to Life, 212 

xxxiii Pressure on Jack Swan, 216 

xxxiv The Hal Hingham Story, 218 

xxxv Masks Off, 222 

xxxvi At the Convention, 229 

xxxvii Ace Insurance Salesman Flees Convention 
Hall, 235 

xxxviii Rewards and Punishments, 240 
xxxix Through the Curtain, 243 
xl Occupational Therapy, 243 



To My Mother 




Part One 


Chapter I The Failure 

The absent-minded salesman picked his 
way down the aisle past a double row of desks where the 
stenographers sat in a long line banging their typewrit- 
ers. At the water-cooler he paused. He started to his 
left, then right, and hesitated again. None of the paths 
before him seemed to lead anywhere. The room was im- 
mense, a regular city, and so noisy that he lost all sense of 
direction. He looked around. A fellow needed a guide, 
and he thought: ‘They ought to have arrows.’ 

He craned his neck, searching the room with an expres- 
sion of polite, patient bewilderment, while all around 
him girls and clerks swarmed in the aisles. Telephones 
were ringing everywhere. Huge black business machines 
gave off a steady hum. He imagined a generator under 
the floor making the business go. Wherever he turned he 
saw hard-eyed men in shirt sleeves rattling off dicta- 
tion, girls stapling and stamping and sealing envelopes, 
tidy old men wrapping and opening packages, and a horde 
of office boys racing through the labyrinth with more 
work for everyone. 

Even the furniture seemed to be in motion. Rows of 
desks and filing-cabinets, jammed together at all angles, 
spread out over the loft in a disorderly spiral This for- 
mation looked as chough it were being flung slowly 
across die room. He imagined that Mr. Carmody’s busi- 
ness was about to crash through the far wall and burst 
into space. 

He stood and watched the people work. Their industry 



pA'ftT One 


4 


struck at his confidence, yet he pitied the sullen faces. It 
seemed to him that there was no life in them; only a pur- 
poseless devotipn to their jobs. But he had no purpose 
either, and was hardly qualified to pity anyone. 

Resting on a bench, he put his head in his hands. He had 
a weak impulse to duck out of the interview. He knew 
what Carmody would be like. Impatient, ham-handed 
men ran offices of this kind. He would walk in on a fat' 
face. ... He pulled himself together. It was time to 
get on the ball. 

A phone rang near his elbow. It was snatched up by a 
leathery little man who had tom his collar open, who 
raked his fingers through his wild hair and shouted: “No, 
I won’t! Your deadline is Tuesday!” He hadn’t meant to 
stare, but before he knew it the bright, exasperated eyes 
were fixed on him, and the question was apparently di- 
rected at him: “Well then, what are you waiting for?” 
Who? He moved away quickly. 

He gripped his briefcase and stepped back from the 
maze streaked now by ladders of sunlight slanting 
through the Venetian blinds. The blaze on the frosted- 
glass cubicles made him rub his eyes. When he opened 
them the entire office was illuminated by a dusty glow 
shot through with sunbeams, and he was surprised to find 
that a bright, vaguely electric fog lay between him and 
the job he had to do. 

“Who do you want?” demanded a.i angry voice. 

A truculent little bulldog face, fiercely lipsticked, 
glared at him from under a fringe of bangs. 

“Mr. Carmody . . .” 

“Keep rigjit.” 



5 


i The Failure 


“But where?” 

“There!” She pointed to an aisle broader than the oth- 
ers that soon disappeared in the jungle* yf furniture. 

“Thank you very much, I — ” but she simply brushed 
past him. 

He turned to watch her go. She had treated him as 
though he were carrying packages to the stock room. 
He wandered on down the broad aisle. He walked 
through slatted sunlight. Stripes danced on his gray gab- 
ardine and touched up the watery shine on his shoes. 

He was bumped, and cried out: “Excuse me!” 

The man who had done it called back over his shoulder: 
“Sorry, Mac!” 

The contact spun him around. He nearly backed into a 
machine that was throwing a stream of papers into a 
trough. There was a pretty girl with sun in her hair. She 
would direct him. He started toward her, but she shut 
the file drawer, clasped a big folder to her breast, and ran 
away. 

It wasn’t intentional; she hadn’t seen him. Yet, he 
knew, there were some people she would have seen. Any 
of Arcadia’s top agents would have captured her eye 
without effort. Clerks, waitresses, and shopgirls re- 
sponded to their most casual gestures. They seemed to 
radiate a worthwhileness that communicated itself in- 
stantly to others. He had often tried to imitate their 
stances and tones of voice, but strangers still walked 
away from him. His prospects still looked out the win- 
dow. 

He crossed a small clearing and passed some clerks nos- 
ing over a field of ledgers. They lifted their heads dazedly. 



Paht One 


6 


One squinted at him through lenses as thick .as eye cups. 
In spit: of his nervousness (the throbbing had already 
begun in, the pit of his stomach), their tired scrutiny 
made him feel stronger. At least his life wasn’t trapped 
in columns of figures . t 

He quickened his steps and showed them a slim, fairly 
good-looking boy about twenty-eight. He had a nice, 
rather round face weakened by an over-friendly smile/ 
He was of medium height and seemed acceptable at first 
glance. But he soon gave himself away. An early habit of 
fear had left a mark on him. He moved cautiously with 
an instinctive awkwcrdness, as though aware that his 
fraud would be discovered at any moment. He winced 
every now and then in response to some hidden worry. 
At other times his gray eyes shone wide with a distant 
focus,. and he appeared to be concentrating on imaginary 
airplanes. He was pale now. His lips puckered anxiously. 
He gave a faint whistle and stopped to look at some- 
thing that few salesmen would have bothered to notice. 

It was a pencil-sharpener lying on its side; the screws 
that fixed it to the desk had come loose. He was gazing 
at it sadly when another girl confronted him. This one 
had fat arms and a buttery yellow skin, and she said: 
“Are you looking for somebody?” 

"Yes,” he said, “but I was just noticing your sharpener. 
It’s too bad when they come apart like that. If I had \ny 
tools here — I’ve got a way of welding them into the 
desk.” 

"Who do you want to see?” asked the fat girl, putting 
her hands on her hips and staring at him. 

"Oh . . . Mr. Carmody. I have an appointment.” 



7 


i The Failure 


“Go straight ahead. No, no, this way. Do you see that 
door with the transom open? The big door — see k?” 

He thanked her, and moved toward /he office that 
could no longer be avoided. He went slowly and more 
slowly, blinking through the sunbeams. The .broken, 
abslhdoned pencil-sharpener had depressed him. It re- 
minded him of himself. People didn’t care how they 
treated mass-produced equipment. 

He might start an artistic repair business. He had 
ideas of remaking office chairs and tables into works of 
art. They would be created especially for Teception 
rooms. He would re-create each piece one at a time with 
a thousand little painstaking hammerings and carvings, 
lay golden designs in the flowering wood. At first, nat- 
urally, office-managers would resist the idea, and . . . 
nothing. 

His feeble fantasy embarrassed him. He knew why his 
mind so often took flight before an interview. Rose had 
put her finger on that. He was running away from real- 
ity. Yet sometimes he felt that the things he dreamed 
of were much more solid than the things he tried to sell. 

Even so, he would stop dreaming. He had the will 
power. He squared his shoulders, but almost at once suc- 
cumbed to a rush of self-pity. What a monotonous life 
lay ahead of him! His life was already mapped out, 
fatSd. He saw himself in ten, fifteen, twenty years, older 
and sorrier but otherwise unchanged, a dim figure with 
a transparent briefcase condemned to wander through 
hot dusty rooms on impossible errands, and he won- 
dered: ‘Why do I have to do it? Who started all this, 
anyway?’ 



Part On* 


8 


A woman stepped across his path and looked at him 
questioningly. The salesman’s mild, friendly features un- 
derwent »flick^r«of distress. He forced a smile. 

“Boston Chemical?” 

“No, I’m Hal Hinglptm from Arcadia Life. Is Mr. Car- 
mody — ?” 

“Yes, he’s in. I don’t think he has much time for you 
today, Mr. Hingham.” 

“Well, if he’s busy . . 

“He’ll see you, though, I’m pretty sure. Would you 
wait a moment, please.” 

He leaned against che glass partition. He started to 
put his hat down, but there wasn’t any convenient 
place, so he tucked it under his elbow, meanwhile tug- 
ging at the clasp of his briefcase. A breeze rattled the 
blinds in the long windows, blowing in the clean, sweet 
smell of the spring afternoon. He thought: ‘If I get 
through soon enough I can take a sunbath.’ 

The do<Jr opened. He heard the secretary answer 
“Yes, sir.” It came on and he almost welcomed it, the 
familiar sinking feeling, not so much of fear as detach- 
ment from the ceremony he was about to go through. 
He knew simultaneously that he couldn’t make good 
and that he must. Then the whole business became re- 
mote. He prepared for a brief dislocation from real life 
— a prelude to lying in the sun. 

He took the booklets out of his briefcase and glanced 
at them humorously. Sliding his back along the par- 
tition, facing with a wan, game smile the banging, bell- 
ringing typewriters and the purposeful shoutings and 
comings and ( goings of everyone in the office-city but 



9 n The Old Story 

himself, h$ wondered: ‘If it’s all in the booklets, why do 
I have to sell it?’ 

Before he could think any more about that, the sec- 
retary nodded to him and said: “Mr. Carmody will see 
you now.” 


Chapter II The Old Story 

Hal found himself in a dark room, green- 
curtained against rhe noise and smlight. The carpet he 
was crossing almost on tiptoe absorbed his footsteps 
soundlessly. He passed shiny leather chairs, and ap- 
proached the desk at the far comer of the office. Under 
the desk lamp he saw, as he had feared, the fat, weary 
face of a man whose only wish was to be left in peace 
and (Juiet. 

“Mr. Carmody—” 

“Just a minute,” said the man behind the desk. He was 
pawing through an upheaval of papers. After a while he 
gave up and stared at Hal. It was an angry look, but also 
a cringing one, as if he expected to be reproved for his 
defiance. His face was heavy and limp. It seemed enor- 
mous because his eyebrows and sparse frazzle of red hair 
blended to the point of invisibility into his skin. There 
was something oddly pathetic in his brutal appearance. 

“Sir, I’m Hal Hingham, Arcadia Life.” 

“All right, sit down. I don’t have much time,” Car- 
mody said hoarsely. “As you see, I’m completely messed 
up here. I can’t seem to do anything right. Why, do you 



Part One 


10 


suppose?" he demanded, turning to Hal. “Do- you think 
I'm sick.of this work? Is that what it means?” 

“I wouldn't kqow about that,” Hal laughed. He wasn't 
going to be sidetracked. “I do know that a lot of our 
worries are brought on by concern over the future, and 
a feeling that we haven’t done quite enough — •” 

Carmody wasn’t listening. “I don’t have any feelings 
any more. I’m just tired,’’ he said. He began massag- 
ing his eyes, and his free hand twitched in his lap. Hal 
noticed how labored his breathing was. These signs of dis- 
tress encouraged him. According to the sales manual, 
one was supposed to create a sense of dissatisfaction in 
the prospect. Carmody was already unhappy. His anx- 
iety needed only to be directed, for his own benefit, 
into specific fears of disease, accident, or death. 

Hal went on: “It may be that a complete physical 
check-up by our doctors would locate the source of your 
trouble. Your tiredness might indicate some other con- 
dition.” 

“If you don’t mind, don’t talk about it,” said Carmody 
heavily. He pulled a handful of tissues from a Kleenex 
carton, and mopped his swollen cheeks. “I’m not very 
well. But that doesn’t concern me at the moment. I 
want to know — 1 wish somebody could tell me — what 
it's all about.” 

“What do you mean, sir?” 

“I don’t care for anything I do. Nothing makes any 
difference any more, and I deliberately mismanage. You 
see—” Carmody shoveled the pile of papers in front of 
him, and one went spinning to the floor. “I let things 
go, because I feel that these papers are pushing me into 



11, ii The Old 'Story 

the comer of a dark room. For what? Can you give me 
one reason why I shouldn’t quit?” 

“As a matter of fact, Mr. Carmodji we feel that re- 
tirement is an advisable goal. Arcadia has a number of 
policies especially suited — ” IJe stopped, because the 
igreat, aggrieved countenance was regarding him with 
hostility. “I’m sorry, sir.” Carmody was a brute wanting 
to talk philosophy. Life had caught up with him, and 
now he struggled anxiously to express himself. What a 
contrast there was between the bustling outer office 
and the boss cowering within. Yet, after all, it was Car- 
mody’s own problem. Hal would have liked to talk phi- 
losophy with this unexpectedly decent man, but it was 
impossible. Time would go by, and he would lose the 
chance to do any selling. 

“Incidentally, I’m insured up to my neck,” «aid Car- 
mody. 

Hal looked down at his notes. “You belong to the 
Wompatuck Club, don’t you, sir?” 

The prospect nodded. 

“I guess you know Ken Herbert.” 

“Yes.” 

“And Bob Arlington?” 

“Yes, I do.” 

“They took out Arcadia annuities for their kids re- 
cently.” 

“Fine, but what’s that got to do with me?” 

“Well, they were in a similar situation. They thought 
they had lived up to their obligations, but they found 
out that they hadn’t completely covered their kids. 
How about your two boys, Mr. Carmody?” 



Part 1 One 


12 


“Look,” Carmody said. His sad, bloodshot eyes blinked 
under the* light. “There may be something in what you 
say. I might ‘even, consider it sometime, but don’t you 
understand? There are certain days. You don’t care 
whether school keeps or pot. Wife, child, obligations can 
all go to hell. Didn’t you ever have that feeling?” 

“No,” Hal said. “I don’t believe I ever did, Mr. Car- 
mody. Certainly not with regard to my obligations.” 

Carmody looked at him. Hal knew this look. He had 
experienced it so many times, and now again. The big 
man was pitying him. There was no more selling to be 
done, and he stood up.«“I’m sorry to have taken your 
time,” he said, and walked to the door. He heard the 
hoarse voice calling his name. 

Carmody had come out from behind his desk. He made 
Hal a kind of signal. “Next time — be human! Don’t you 
have any life in you, boy?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Sell it, theft. Sell life repeated Carmody, and with a 
distraught grimace he went back behind his heap of 
papers. 


Chapter III Swan Boats at Twilight 

He idled by the Esplanade and watched 
some little boys playing with toy sailboats. A boat 
tipped over, and its owner uttered a series of sad, raucous 
little cries until his nurse pulled it out for him. 

Even though five o’clock had struck, he felt guilty 



13 * 


hi Swan • Boats at Twilight 

for stopping to look at the children. It was true that 
no more business would be done. Competitioif, the piti- 
less law of life, was suspended until ^Monday morning. 
Strong men could go home and relax. They had earned 
it. He, having earned nothing, ought to be hustling 
through the emptying office buildings in search of the 
dollar he hadn’t been able to make in regulation time. 

The falling sun threw a golden-brown haze over the 
Esplanade. Pink and gold streamers lay on the river. 
Along the Cambridge side, windows Hashed blinding gold 
in the apartment houses where the M.I.T. students 
lived. A gigantic mayonnaise* sign already glittered 
against the smoky northern horizon. 

He loafed along for a while. Trying not to think of 
Carmody’s contemptuous face, he turned toward the 
Common. The cars were jammed together and honking 
on Charles Street. He jaywalked between bumpers. 
Somebody shouted at him. In the Public Garden home- 
going crowds strolled among the banked islands of flow- 
ers. They smelled the flowers, studied the Latin labels 
on the trees, and had their pictures taken by the candid- 
camera men. Swan boats floated on the pond. Dirty- 
faced children raced around the edge of the pond yelling 
at three gentle boys and their nursemaids, who gazed 
back at them serenely from the swan-boat chairs. 

* Hal lay down on a slope by an old cannon. Time passed. 
The afternoon darkened to a warm brown April twi- 
light. A smoke column climbed high over Beacon Hill 
and hung there for a while before drifting behind the 
golden dome of the State House. The crowds in the 
Public Garden were thinning out. Hal sat up against 



Part One 


•14 


the cannon wheel, still wondering why he had ’failed to 
make it ufith Carmody. 

He heard v6icea.*Two girls were lying on the other 
side of the cannon. Two sailors bent over them with 
their hand& on their knees, each with his hat pushed 
down over one eye, and cocky, sarcastic smiles sitting 
on their faces. 

“You’re fresh,” one of the girls was saying. “I don’t 
like fresh guys like you.” 

“Oh, no? She says she don’t like fresh guys like us,” the 
more aggressive sailor said to his partner. “That’s a coin- 
cidence. My mother toltPme to keep away from bait like 
you, so how about that?” 

“But we’re easy to get along with — we don’t mind if 
you don’t,” his friend added. 

The giri who hadn’t objected to anything giggled and 
hid her face. 

“What’s so funny?” 

“You.” 

“Me?” squealed the second sailor, screwing up his face 
in outlandish agony, and they all burst out laughing. 

“I’m fresh and he’s funny — that’s a good combination,” 
said the leader of the team, furiously chewing gum and 
glancing around at several other possibilities even as he 
made the offer: “How about going to the Playmor?” 

The girls looked at one another. 

“Art Christian’s there.” 

“All right.” 

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” howled the 
funny sailor. 

“So early?” 



15 in Swan Boats at Twilight 

“Don’t worry about that, Josephine.” 

“My name isn’t Josephine.” 

The brutal confidence of the sailors was a mystery to 
him. He had never dared approach a strange girl, unless 
Rose counted, and she had really picked him up. He 
ambled along the path, letting everyone pass him. This 
was one of his habits that infuriated Rose. 

“Hal,” she said, “you don’t even look as if you were 
going anywhere." Nagged by the sound of her own voice, 
she tore into him: “Why do you have to wear your hat 
perched on top of your head like that?” Once she almost 
hit him with her handbag. “Oh, please, can’t you stop 
looking around and sideways and up in the air — every- 
where but at somebody? Hal!” 

If they were married, she would probably be a lot 
worse. 

He stopped on the bridge to watch the swan boats. 
A slanting cloud of pigeons whirred down on the bank 
where an old lady was passing out bread crumbs. She had 
a little boy with her who squealed and hid his head as 
the pigeons beat the air around him. Lights were coming 
on in the office buildings and hotels. Trinity Chimes rang 
a quarter to six. In fifteen minutes he would be justified 
in going to supper. He leaned uneasily against the par- 
apet. His eyes were drowsy and gentle. The movement 
of his lips described the endless conversation he was hav- 
ing with himself. 

He was dreaming of a country where people walked 
around happily, never doubting one another. This was 
possible because there had been an invention, like the 



Part One 


.16 


lie-detector. It was the character-detector. Everybody 
carried ode. When a decent person touched it, it turned 
blue. 

“Pardon me, buddy, I served in the last one — ” 

“No,” he; said, “I haven’t any money.” 

He moved away from the ramshackle old man. Soon it 
was dark on the bridge. The pigeons on the bank flew off 
again because the lady had no more bread. The grannies 
and the little boys abandoned the swan boats. A few 
people hung around, but when the six-o’clock chimes 
began they drifted off to supper. 


Chapter IV A Glimmer of Hope 

At ten o’clock, in accordance with the 
landlady's orders, Hal got up from his workbench and 
began putting away his tools. This was Mrs. Doyle’s' 
bedtime, and sKe refused to let him “fool around” in her 
cellar after she was under the covers. Actually he wasn’t 
fooling around at all; he was making things. He liked to 
make things with tools. It didn’t matter a great deal 
what kind of object he made, as long as he could turn 
it on his lathe, and hammer, saw, screw, chisel, bore, 
grind, plane, and sandpaper it That was the fun of the 
thing. 

He spent most of his free evenings in this damp, rub- 
ble-strewn basement of Mrs. Doyle’s rooming-house. His 
workbench stood in a clean-swept corner behind the 
furnace. Light from the bulb over his head outlined a 
geometry of small shadows on the back wall. These were 



17 iv A Glimmer of Hope 

formed by his works of art — ash trays, cigarette boxes, 
book ends. 

Tonight he had been making funny animals. He 
wanted one more crack at the top-hatted little duck, 
to smooth out its tail feathers.. His lathe whined softly 
add stopped, whined again and stopped as a sudden 
thumping shook the boards of the ceiling. She never 
gave him an extra minute. He sighed and covered his 
lathe. The forms silhouetted on the back wall were 
joined by the shadow of a duck, and he went upstairs. 

He had just turned off the light at the head of the 
stairs when he heard her say: “Good evening, Mr. 
Hingham.” 

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Doyle.” 

Her bulk blocked the dark hallway. 

“Scraping away on a nice night like this?” 

“Yes, I’ve been working.” He didn’t like her tone. 

“The way you waste these beautiful nights, Mr. Hing- 
ham — it’s not healthy for a boy your age. Why aren’t 
you out with some nice girl?” 

“Well, I enjoy—” 

“ — instead of scraping away on that machine down in 
my cellar.” 

This put him on his guard. 

**I don’t see why you should object, Mrs. Doyle. After 
all, I pay for using the light. I’m very quiet.” 

“Oh, I’m not talking about your noise. It is a dis- 
turbance, but I mean the shavings.” 

“Shavings!” he said. It wasn’t fair. He always swept 
them up. 



Part One 


18 


She was trying to put something over. He .wished he 
dared matter an excuse and edge by her. He took a step. 
If she werenVso.fat and — inviting with her body. How 
she panted! He drew back, for she was breathing in his 
face and .the smell of .the kitchen on her made him 
queasy. 

“I didn’t say anything until now— out of consideration 
for you. You always seemed like a very nice boy to me. 
But that business of yours in the cellar is a violation 
of the lire laws, Mr. Hingham. If you dropped a ciga- 
rette . . .” 

“I don’t smoke!” he«cried. “You know I don’t. You 
were hesitating just then — trying to make up reasons,” 
he told her angrily. “I keep my wood and tools in an 
iron box.” 

“Didn#t you ever hear of spontaneous combustion?” 
she whispered, and then was seized by a convulsion of the 
throat. While she coughed and heaved he turned his 
face to the wall. 

She resumed with a deep intake of breath: “It’s dan- 
gerous for me — alone every night, with no one to wake 
me if the house catches fire.” 

“There isn’t going to be any fire. At least, not be- 
cause of me.” 

“Oh, you can’t tell, Mr. Hingham.” 

“Well,” he said, “I think I’ll—” 

“So long as you’re a fire hazard I’ll have to ask you for 
five dollars a week more — unless,” she added softly, “you 
can find a better way to spend some of your evenings 
around here.” 

He became aware of a great mammal waiting for him 



19 iv A Glimmer of Hope 

in the dask. She made a loose motion. He sensed the 
tremendous flesh lurking beneath her bathrobe. 

“A boy your age,” she said. 

She was trying to cheat him. He had a notion to push 
her fat face in. There was enough to complain about, if 
he Vanted to. No lights on the top-floor landing. Cock- 
roaches. Five dollars a week more! He thought of the 
luke-warm dribbling shower, the lousy little light bulbs 
in his room, and the times she had forgotten to change 
the sheets. 

He looked it her. Now his eyes were used to-the dark, 
and the sensual grin he discovered on her face horrified 
him. He imagined being folded in those overripe arms, 
and wanted to butt his head against the wall. 

“I’ll have to let you know,” he said. “Will Monday be 
all right?” 

“Monday?” She seemed astonished. “That’s up to you, 
entirely,” she whispered. 

The way she was acting, she might jump out of her 
bathrobe at him. He said: “Thank you, Mrs. Doyle!” and 
ran past her before she could catch him around the 
waist. He locked his door. 

Night. Fingering through the pages of an old maga- 
zine. He sat in a yellow light. His eyes had begun to 
ache. He bent over a small reading-table with one hand 
plunged in his haif, squinting at some pictures of office 
furniture in Popular Technix. He turned the page, and 
another, and yawned. 

The room was small and square, with a low ceiling and 
curlicuing patterns of roses on the wall. He had two 



Part One 


20 


chairs, a rocker near the window and the straight- 
backed one he was sitting on; a sagging, iron-posted bed; 
and a bureau \vi{lr a mirror. His window looked out on 
an alley. The pane was streaked with coal dust. A layer 
of grit CQvered the sill % The landlady had sent his cur- 
tains to the cleaners a month ago, and the window was 
still bare. The maroon s rug needed cleaning too, but 
would probably fall apart in the process. Over all this 
spread the yellow light and a strong smell of cabbage. 

He yawned over the back pages of Popular Technix. 
Now the ads: “Own a Motor Bike.” “Draftsmen Make 
Big Money.” “Be a Detective.” Then something about a 
Grasshopper Mind. The type was beginning to blur when 
a headline commanded him: “stop!” 

He rubbed his eyes and looked again, “stop! why 

ARE YOU. UNHAPPY?” 

'‘Because I’m different from other people,* he thought 
dully. ‘They don’t have any respect for me.’ “failure? 

TRY CENTRALISM!” 

He had seen dozens of these ads before, but this one 
shouted through his sleepiness. A powerful black fore- 
finger came out of the page, pointing at him. Beneath 
it was the flat assurance: “centralism is for you.” 

He read: 

You’re unhappy, uncomfortable, and “on edge” aU 
the time. The chances are ten to one that you’re a 
failure. How do I know? Because you have read 
down this far. 


‘That’s true,’ he thought, right. You’ve got me 

there.” y i 


rrognt, yojy&ngnt. 

i 



21 iv A Glimmer of Hope 

Let mexeconstruct your situation. At this moment, 

I suspect, you are alone. You spend a lot of tiifte by 
yourself. You are poor both in finances and in spirit. 
You’re afraid of people, aren’t you? 

Yjs. His fear was at the bottom of everything. He 
read on. 

I am talking to you, Mister. You in that lonely 
room, who wish you could land a date with a pretty 
girl. You whose palms start perspiring when you’re 
called in for * session with the boss. 

Every detail was true. His palms did sweat. ‘How does 
he know?’ he marveled. He had a strange feeling of some- 
one imprisoned, waving the key to life, almost hysteri- 
cally trying to get through to him and help him.^ 

How do I know these things? Because until I dis- 
covered Centralism, I was just like you. I was prob- 
ably even more miserable, more inferior than you are 
today. Yet practically overnight Centralism brought 
me total happiness and success. 

What’s the secret? Here’s a hint. They cast me out, 
but I found a way to get back. I didn’t fight them. 

I joined them — with a vengeance! 

This is no romance. I positively guarantee that 
after you have followed a few simple instructions, 
Centralism will make you successful and happy be- 
yond any dream you have permitted yourself. 

Unfortunately, space limitations prevent me from 
disclosing to you the dynamics of Centralism here 
and now. I will only reveal that my system erases the 



Past One 


22 


qualities that make you “different” from Qther peo- 
ple. k makes you Absolutely Normal — in a matter of 
hours. And ypu will find that this amazing new state 
of being gives you a strange power over others, for 
no on; can help lovjng you. 

It was all he had evgr wanted — to break out of the 
awful unattractiveness that made others avoid him. He 
dreamed of walking down an endless Main Street and 
being saluted by Tom, Dick, and Harry from gas sta- 
tions, haberdasheries, and drugstores. He wanted the 
girls to giggle and gossip with him. He wanted the fel- 
lows to take him into their confidence, and when the 
time came for risky stories he wanted to be in on the 
laugh. He longed to have someone remark: “Hal Hing- 

ham was there,” as if it mattered. 

• 

This is a promise, Mister. I offer you double your 
money back in cash if after five short weeks of con- 
scientiously Centralizing yourself you don’t find it 
literally impossible to feel unhappy. 

Hal stood up. Common sense told him it would be a 
waste of money. He tried to forget the wild promise, 
but, as before, he had the sensation of being shouted at 
from thousands of miles away, “failure? try central- 
ism!” The forefinger seemed to rise out of the page^and 
poke at him, insisting: “failure failure centralism is 

FOR YOU.” 

Enclose $7 in cash or money order to cover post- 
age and service charge, and I will send you complete 
instructions in Centralism by return mail. But hurry! 



23 v Fred Purdy and the Misfit 

Mail youf application today. Don’t keep your own 
happiness waiting. 

The message was signed in towering capitals: DR. 
MODESTO. A feathered arrow drew Hal’s attention to 
the coupon below. It came from Box 4508, Broad View, 
Nebraska. He began filling in the dotted lines. 


Chapter V Fred Purdy and the Misfit 

Fred Purdy looked at the scared face across 
the desk and wished that he had not summoned the boy. 
Death was the only way out for Hingham, or crime. 
Why try to convince this lump of anxiety that ht could 
sell anything 5 Because, and only because, it was part of 
the game, the lifelong as-if. Since all commercial life was 
a pretense and a fraud, loyalty (to the fraud) compelled 
him to reassure Hingham: you’ll-get-there-yet. 

An amiable expression concealed these black thoughts. 
He was small and dumpy, with a bulbous nose. When he 
took off his steel-framed spectacles he couldn’t see any- 
thing. He walked fast on little black shoes, and de- 
lighted in his ordinary appearance. Sometimes he observed 
himsfilf and listened to himself lecturing a group of sales- 
men and had the ecstatic feeling of being a criminal or 
a spy in a world full of simple folk. Up the honest bour- 
geois! Who would suspect his savage disbelief in all the 
things he lived by? 

He pretended to look for something in the drawer. 



Part One 


24 


Meanwhile he gave the boy a kindly smile, and felt it 
seized upon like a bone or a hand to kiss. 

u I’m glad yoy called me up here, sir. I’ve been wanting 
to get some advice from you, any . . .” 

Misfit? annoyed him, because he couldn’t have any fun 
with them. They doubted the same things he did, but 
instead of laughing at- the futility, they cringed. He 
both scorned and pitied the anxious souls, and the ones' 
who trembled and swore to make good. ‘Poor bastards,* 
he thought. He despised them for their pathetic at- 
tempts to conform, yet he was touched by their humil- 
iations. He spoke to. them gently (“like a father,” he 
chuckled in savage amusement) and did his best to con- 
vince each one that God had meant him to operate 
successfully in this lousy world. 

“Mb Purdy, I was hoping you could help me.” 

' “All right, Hingham,” he said. “Just a minute.” 

He pretended to study the contract he had just dis- 
covered in the in basket, and laughed at his aimless chi- 
canery. His blotter was always as neat and barren as a 
putting-green. He had practically nothing to do but 
sell a little and give pep talks to his underlings. Purdy 
put down the contract and observed for the first time 
that the boy was desperate. 

“Sir! I want to make a clean breast — •” 

“Be right with you, Hingham. First, if you don’t 
mind . . .” Purdy excused himself rnd went off to the 
men’s room. 

Hal wanted to make a clean breast of everything. That 
was the ways Confess. Then everybody made allowances 



25 v Fred Purdy and the Misfit 

and helped you. He would tell Mr. Purdy about his early 
life — how he was under his dad’s thumb and nevefr had a 
chance to develop. He would insist tlfat he wanted to 
make good under his own power. 

‘I’ll just throw myself on everybody’s mercy, he de- 
cided^ This would do at least until he heard from Dr. 
Modesto, if he ever did. Two weeks had passed without a 
word from Nebraska. 

In the men’s room the agency-director of Arcadia 
Life’s Comiror wealth Branch sat in the middle booth 
picking sardonically at his own li/e. He was imagining 
that he was in jail. He had been put in a cell in this 
ridiculous position, and in the cells next to him were his 
business neighbors in similar travail, everybody under 
questioning. 

“What do you do, Purdy? What do you really do?" 

“/ write life insurance ." 

“ Apart from the financial gain involved, do you care 
•whether anyone purchases life insurance ?” 

“No, I don't care ." 

“Who do you really love, Purdy? Your wife and chil- 
dren?" 

“/ have no children, and do not love my wife. Ooh!” 

“ Then what do you really care about, Purdy?" 

“/ like sports. Baseball. The Red Sox.” 

Then came the question he feared. 

“Suppose today all the players on tbe Red Sox mere 
traded to the Yankees, and all the Yankee players came 
to Boston in exchange, which team would you be for 7” 
— and he didn't know the answer. 



Part One 


26 


“ But I live as if / care, as if / lover he, called after 
them, toughing, in his own imagination. “ Give me some 
credit for that, "don't you, boys?" 

Returning to practical matters, he made up the song 
and dance he would gi«e poor Hingham. 

“I guess you know your record. You haven’t got one,” 
he said. “You haven’t sold anything since I can remem- 
ber. If it wasn’t that your father had been with the 
company, we’d have thrown you out.” 

“I know it. I lack confidence, Mr. Purdy!” 

“Incompetent selling . . . reflects on us. . . 

“Yes! That’s just what I wanted to talk to you 
about!” 

Purdy saw in Hingham’s earnest young face the lust to 
confess’. “Tell me about it, son,” he said. 

“Well, my father died five years ago. He was good to 
me, in. a way. He even left me a little income. But I 
think I’ve still got a complex about him. I’ve got to get 
away from it if I’m ever going to make a success, Mr. 
Purdy. I’ve thought about it a long time,” Hal went on, 
encouraged by his boss’s nod of sympathy. 

“I’ve been leaning on the reputation my dad made 
here at Arcadia, and it’s bad for me. It’s really a handicap, 
because I’m always comparing myself with him, and so 
does everybody else. . . . You see, he was a fine man, all 
right, but not much of a father to ne. I mean he never 
paid much attention. . . . My mother died when I was 
bom, Mr. Purdy. I was brought up by my Aunt Mary 
— she’s my dad’s sister. I never had much chance. . . .” 

He tdld Mr. Purdy how it was with his gloomy boy- 



27 


v Fred Purdy and the Misfit 

hood in Hampton, how his dad stayed away for months 
at a time. He — frightened by the other boys — would, for 
example, vainly challenge Aunt Mary, to play baseball. 
He played alone with dolls and trains in the hot attic. 
His father appeared one day only long enough to drag 
hirtH kicking and screaming, into the B dy Scouts. 

‘Yes,’ said Purdy to himself, ‘youflare an unfortu- 
nate weakling,’ as Hingham confided and confessed and 
pleaded, flinging open all the doors and windows of his 
childhood. 

The boy bad a father complex as big as a house. Samuel 
Hingham was supposed to have been a stuffy and dom- 
inating individual. Even so, that was no excuse. You had 
to choose the right parents — or else. 

“I’ve got to stuid on my own feet!” declared young 
Hingham. 

“Of course,” his boss agreed. “You’ve got the right 
idea, son.” 

“I thought of changing my name.” 

“Well, that might help you. Perhaps it would be bet- 
ter, though, if you could learn to live with your name, 
and use it.” 

He was bored and disgusted with his own counsel, 
especially since he knew that Hingham was not really 
listening to it. Like all weaklings, this one was tyrannical 
and also dishonest. Whining, they challenged the great 
as-if that was necegsary to keep things going. Hypocrisy 
was not good enough for them. 

“Listen,” he said angrily. “What do you come to me 
for? You don’t believe in your job. Why should you? It’s 
utterly unimportant. So don’t believe in it. I’ll tell you 

B 



Part One 


28 


something, Hingham. Unbelief is a wonderful thing — it 
frees a man for action.” 

“What, sir?” ssyd Hingham, shaken. 

“I say getting ahead isn’t important Nothing’s im- 
portant.” 

“I’ll make good, Mr. Purdy,” Hal promised. He wanted 
to get out 

“And now that you’ve heard my opinion, disbelieve it 
Do you follow me?” Purdy’s smile followed him. 

IIJ W 

“ Pretend to believe, or you’ll fail.” 

As Hingham stumbled out, the phone rang. 

“No, dearest,” Purdy said. “I’m going to be very late 
tonight” 

This time, for some reason, the lie distressed him. 

“No, no, dear. You can’t phone me where I’m going to 
be.” 

The faded serene face he couldn’t see, the gentle dis- 
appointment'in her voice, made him wince. 

“Sure, I’ll call you.” 

How many nights he left her alone. 

“Don’t wait up, now. You need your beauty sleep. 
Good-by, darling,” he said miserably, as if lying were a 
sin. 


Chapter VI A Message from Nebraska 

After eating gray hamburgers at Vathek’s 
cafeteria, Hal hurried along under the lamps of Marl- 
borough Street half-walking, half-running to get home 



29 vi A Message from Nebraska 

to bed. The interview with Purdy had exhausted him. 
He imagined running on until he fell or disappeared in 
the darkness. 

Small worries raced through his mind. He had no pros- 
pects lined up. He was nearly broke for the week, and had 
no idea how he was going to pay the extra rent Mrs. 
Doyle wanted. This painful question reminded him that 
she might be listening for him in the hallway. He would 
have to step softly. 

Miserable years extended before him, and he saw no 
escape from his cringing existence. An old despair took 
hold of him. He had first suffered from it in Hampton — 
the fear that he was the wrong combination of his an- 
cestors, a runt whom no amount of training would help. 
He remembered another fragment of his childhood, 
swinging vainly at a great furry ball, and the grief- 
stricken tennis-instructor his father had hired splinter- 
ing his racket across his own flanneled knees and roaring 
at him: “You’re unco-ordinated!” Yet eventually he had 
learned to play a fair game of tennis. His unco-ordinated 
personality could be trained too, as the man from Ne- 
braska had promised. But where was Dr. Modesto’s guar- 
anteed Answer to Life? Either lost in the mail or a 
fraud. 

He walked unsteadily into a soft wind. The street- 
lanips flung his silhouette away from him. He walked 
past the lace-curtqjned windows of Marlborough Street 
and came to a house. There they were again, every night 
— three ladies under enormous fringed lamps playing cards 
with an old man. They played against a backdrop of an 
emerald screen, dragon tapestries, and silver dust that 



Part One 


30 


seemingly exuded from the walls. Tonight tfye tableau 
frightened him. The ladies reminded him of his aunt, and 
the feeble old iftan,of himself some day. He ran on, fearful 
of his future. 

Who helped an impotent man? It was useless to appeal 
to Rose: “I can’t make it, comfort me.” Girls refused 
to accept certain confessions. He could hear her: 

“Hal, if the others can sell life insurance, so can you. 
You just haven’t gone about it in the right way.” She 
would seize his limp hands, and explain sadly yet impa- 
tiently: “You aren’t really trying. You don’t put your 
mind to it.” 

He saw her bright eyes; the thin, angled arms, and her 
tense body line of bones and tendons and energy. There 
was no refuge in her lap. She was metallic and penetrat- 
ing, he thought, like the X-ray machines she handled. 

He closed the front door softly behind him. 

There was a big white envelope on the hall table let- 
tered “centralism is for you.” 

It was like getting ready for his bride. First he turned 
his bed down and laid the envelope across the pillow. 
He took a fresh white handkerchief from the bureau 
drawer and began dusting things. Soon his luxuriously 
slow movements excited him. 

He undressed and crossed the hall to the bathroom. 
Several minutes later, still moist from his fast, cool 
shower, he jumped into bed. He opened the envelope. 

The pamphlet that fell out was titled “the revela- 
tions OF DR. MODESTO.” 



The Confessions of Dr. Modesto (I) 


I was bom more than fifty years ago in the 

stftte of M . My father was the minister of a mild 

faith. Although our denomination was not strong in num- 
bers, it happened that a large percentage of the national 
membership was concentrated in the southwest comer of 

M . This circumstance allowed my father to boast 

(something he never did) of more parishioners than at- 
tended the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in 
the vicinity. But, as I say, he would never have dreamed 
of boasting about anything. He was proud of his meek- 
ness and cherished it, happily knuckling under to anyone 
who challenged him. 

My mother was, if possible, an even less vigorous per- 
son than he. She seldom spoke out loud. When she did 
give voice to one of her harmless thoughts, you generally 
couldn’t hear her. If she were asked: “What’s that?” she 
would go into paroxysms of embarrassment. My father 
and I never made this mistake. It was not unusual for 
my mother to murmur all through dinner without our in- 
terrupting our own conversation or hearing a word she 
said. 

I was an unobtrusive boy. The shouts and squabbles of 
childhood had no gneaning for me. I passed mildly among 
the other boys, waiting patiently for the time when I 
would be grown-up. Surprisingly enough, although I was 
the minister’s son, they didn’t pick on me unduly. I 
seemed to baffle them. 



[ 32 ] 

At one point— I think I was fourteen— they, did try a 
strange tiick on me. They pretended I was invisible. They 
would walk at me tea if there was nothing but air where 
I stood, and they would bump into me. The game was to 
look frightened and then enormously relieved: “Oh,” 
they would say, “it’s you I Why don’t you let people 
know you’re there?” I -accepted all this without com- 
plaint, without breaking into tears as they probably ex- 
pected. Gradually the game was discontinued — or perhaps 
it never was. I used to wonder whether I really had be- 
come invisible in the course of the joke, because thereafter 
they noticed me so little without trying. 

I didn’t care. I was devoting myself to religious studies. 
It was assumed that I would follow in my father’s foot- 
steps and some day “inherit” the parish. I pored over his 
sermons .and kept a notebook, jotting down thoughts of 
my own that seemed instructive yet not too aggressively 
challenging. Watching him at parish teas and picnics, I 
,saw that he h&d managed to win something like respect 
for his meekness — even from those who slapped him on 
the back and joked with him about holding the softest job 
in the county — a reference to his working only one day 
a week. 

For my part, I’m afraid I didn’t love or admire him 
very much. I wanted to, but I found myself wishing that 
he threw a longer shadow — so that I could feel at lpast 
a little bit dominated by him. He and I seemed to have 
milk in our veins, and I suppose I blamed him for passing 
his unimpressiveness on to me. Yet I believed in his good 
life. I had to, because my life would be the same. Or, 



[ 33 ] 


rather, it would have been the same if the stranger with 
the books had not struck our town without warning the 
week after my seventeenth birthday. 

It was a hot, damp midsummer afternoon. I was walk- 
ing as usual in the direction of the library when I heard 
j haling sounds and the clatter of hooves. There were 
shouts from Main Street. I ran toward them. A crowd 
had gathered in front of the general store. Everyone was 
gaping at a gaudy caravan fringed in gold like a circus 
wagon. A white horse stood in the traces, whisking its 
tail. Fiery letters blazed out from this spectacular ve- 
hicle: “maynabd the atheist.” 

Then I saw a cruel-looking zealot mounted on the steps 
of the van. He had a dark, passionate, scornful face and 
long black hair. He was passing out green booklets and 
shouting through a megaphone, haranguing us With wild, 
strange phrases. I pressed closer to hear what he was say- 
ing. Soon I was shocked and frightened. I saw fear and 
anger on the faces of my neighbors. 

He was challenging any religious leader of our town to 
debate the existence of God. 

Of course, the constable was sent for. But our savage 
visitor was prepared for this. Shaking his fist, he laughed. 
"You call the police because you’re afraid 1 A typical lot 
of believers you are. You’re afraid, that’s what it is. You 
know your feeble faiths can’t stand up to my arguments, 
and once you listen to me you’ll all be atheists — yes, all 
of you!” 

At this the crowd began growling and moving toward 
him, but he wasn’t in the least intimidated. He went on 



[ 34 ] 

flailing his arms and taunting us. Now and then he would 
throw out a shower of green books, which already some 
unthinking peoplp <had picked up and begun to read. 

Suddenly a voice came out of the crowd: “Stop I Don’t 
injure him!” I was amazed to see my father push his way 
through the multitude and stand before the atheist. 

“I will accept this man’s challenge I” he said. 

Immediately everyone was cheering my father. I wish 
I could say that he cut a noble figure, but the truth is 
that there was an expression of such vacuous complacency 
on his face that I could hardly bear to look at him. The 
atheist, who stood about a foot taller, grinned down 
hungrily at my father. As the townspeople cheered, I 
prayed to God for His Own sake to produce another 
champion — someone, almost anyone else, to combat the 
fierce unbeliever who had so abruptly burst into our 
lives. 

Unfortunately, there was no Divine intervention. Father 
Donovan of the Roman Catholic Church was in the hos- 
pital. The Episcopal minister, Father Lawrence, had gone 
to the state capital. It was arranged that my poor father 
would debate Maynard the Atheist at the grange hall 
that same evening. 

Torches flared on the stage. Rafters trembled, windows 
rattled, the beams of the hall shook from the tattoo of 
stamping feet. An ovation greeted my father. “Bring on 
the atheist I’’ we cried, and then he came, and there was 

r 

a vast silence, for the two made a terrifying contrast 
on the speakers’ platform. My father sat with his hands 
folded, and a melancholy yet insufferably complacent 
smile on his lips. The stranger, utterly unafraid of us, 



[ 35 ] 

came striding onstage with a suitcase full of those books, 
which he promptly unpacked and spread out before our 
eyes. Then he surveyed us in a lordly way — (we who 
could have carried him out of town astride a piece of 
kindling from his own caravan) — and he looked at us 
almost pityingly, as if he regretted having to cram the 
truth into so many foolish heads. 

We waited for someone to call the debate to order. 
Maynard strode about the stage, looked at his watch, 
then at my father, and suddenly he leaped, actually 
leaped across the platform and cried out: “Do you con- 
tend, Mr. Minister, that a personal God exists some- 
where in the sky?” 

“I do, sir,” replied my father. “Otherwise I should not 
be here.” 

“And . . . And !” the atheist’s voice came . howling 
through our applause. “He sent down His only begotten 
Son to speak for Him, eh?" 

“Well, in a manner of speaking,” said my father, our 
faith not being too insistent on this point. “Yes, and — ” 

“Then the Son we may suppose had faith in the 
Father?” 

“Of course.” 

“Well, then!” shouted Maynard, flourishing his whip- 
like arm in my father’s face. “Let’s hear you tell your 
flocjc what Jesus said at the last moment!” 

“Why, surely,” my father began. “You mean — ” 

“You know where I mean,” sneered the atheist. 

My father opened his mouth, but no words came. His 
face took on a ghastly hue. I cringed at the pathetic 
sight, and hid myself in the crowd. 



[ 36 ] 

Looking back, I don’t know. ... I think perhaps the 
invasioif of our town by this man was heaven-sent to 
test the mild faitil we held. At any rate, Maynard’s ju- 
venile arguments that any courageous schoolboy might 
have answered threw u? into confusion. 

When my father finally mumbled what Jesus had said, 
the atheist exultantly pbunded his fist into his palm. 

“Exactly! In other words, even he lacked faith. At the 
end, mind you — that’s when most people really believe — 
he abandoned his faith completely.” 

“Which shows that he was human, even as you and I,” 
said my father in a trembling voice. 

“Human, eh?” laughed Maynard, winking at us as 
though we were on his side. “All right, but still you admit 
my point. He changed his mind at the last moment.” 

“Well*—” 

“Did he or did he not, according to Scriptural author- 
ity, change his mind?” 

“He did," my father whispered. 

“Then who in heaven’s name are we supposed to have 
faith in?” 

A murmur of anger went up all over the hall. We 
turned to my father, waiting for him to speak out and 
destroy the spurious argument, but he remained slumped 
against the speakers’ table. It seemed to me that he was 
eying Maynard the Atheist in a sort of ecstasy, craving 
punishment from him like an ancient martyr. 

From that moment on he offered only token resistance 
to this logic-chopping lawyer of the devil. What objec- 
tions he did make were like offerings to the brutality 
of Maynard’s assault on all that he held dear. 



[ 37 ] 

“How do .you explain the soul in the light of recent 
developments in quantum mechanics?” 

“What was that?” 

“Quantum mechanics I I presume you know what they 
are.” 

“Ho,” said my father, “I’ve never heard of them.” 

“Bah!” the atheist laughed. “And how do you account 
for the lungfish?” 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“We know that inbreeding produces idiocy. Why are 
not all Noah’s descendants, presumably including our- 
selves, congenital idiots if — ” 

“You know, sometimes I think we are,” said my father 
ruefully. 

This frail joke gave us something to cheer about, but 
not for long. Maynard shot his finger at my father’s nose 
and demanded: “Could God make a mountain so big that 
even He couldn’t move it?” 

And my father couldn’t answer him. I don’t want to 
think about that evening any more. It is enough to say 
that he was humiliated many times over. We heard him 
yield up his beliefs, one after another. The difference 
was — I could have sworn — that while we suffered he was 
enjoying it. His eyes were closed. An agonized smile 
played on his lips. At times his body would jerk ecstat- 
ically as some especially humiliating admission was 
forced from him. 

Finally Maynard gave a great roar of laughter. He 
flung my father one last scornful glance, picked up his 
suitcase, and, pivoting like a discus-thrower, hurled arm- 
loads of booklets at us. As we scrambled for them, he 



[ 38 ] 

kissed us off with an arrogant gesture of farewell and 
swaggeied out of our lives. A few minutes later my father 
was left alotie iij the hall, a broken and ridiculous figure. 

I am told that only five people came to church the 
following Sunday. They found no minister on duty. My 
father had simply disappeared, and he was gone for a 
month. The strain, I know, hastened my mother’s death. 
When my father finally did return (from the slums of 
the state capital, we discovered later) he had become un- 
recognizable. He smoked and drank a great deal. He 
walked about the house with a dreamy smile, talking to 
himself. The night my mother died, and the neighbors 
came, he would not stop chuckling. Then he was sent 
away. . . . 



The Confessions of Dr. Modesto (2) 


How they picked on me ! I mean the people 
of ’the town — as if I were responsible for my father’s 
fiasco. Children were instructed to laugh at me on the 
street. On Halloween they piled tin cans on my front 
walk. At night I could heai their angry laughter outside 
my window. 

To imagine what an effect these events had on me, re- 
member that I was a shy and inhibited boy under the 
best of circumstances. I never doubted that I had been 
placed on earth to continue my father’s work. I had fitted 
myself for a career in the pulpit rather than the market 
place, enduring “invisibility” games and such in order to 
achieve the meekness I needed. Then all at once my fu- 
ture was destroyed by the scandal. 

Maynard had not only ruined my father; he had con- 
taminated me. I believed in nothing. I was prepared for 
nothing. Who was I? “I am Jesus’ little lamb, Jesus 
Christ, how glad I am.” That’s what the children shouted 
after me — under the instructions of their parents, I know. 
The conspiracy almost dehumanized me. I began to feel 
like a queer and inadequate fish, sick of water and unfit 
for land — a mutation, a specimen of humanity somehow 
gone wrong. Yet I, had to make my own way. For the 
first time I realized that the outside world was a place of 
mysterious brutality. 

I sold the little house where I had expected always to 
live, and traveled to the state capital. There an old 



[ 40 ] 

schoolmate of my father found me a job writing articles 
on religious subjects for the National Encyclopedia. At 
first this seemed, like a wonderful position, perhaps the 
only job in the world I could hope to do with any degree 
of competence. Unfortunately, my lack of enthusiasm 
showed in my work. Some of the articles I turned in had 
sneering, skeptical overtones that affronted the Ency- 
clopedia editors. Even more important was the tone of 
my personality. 

The hammerings of society had made me, as I say, 
strange. The son of a disgraced father, I was continually 
tormented by the fear that I might disgrace myself at 
any moment. I developed nervous mannerisms, blinking, 
coughing, swallowing; my palms sweated. My voice trem- 
bled in the presence of my superiors. And everyone, it 
seemed, was my superior. 

I tried desperately to get on an equal plane with peo- 
ple, but I always failed. It was uncanny. No sooner did 
I enter a roofn than every man and woman in the place 
instantly sized me up as an unimportant person. Some- 
how, in some strange way (I thought), they all sensed 
my “difference.” No matter what I did — or how I tried 
to say the right thing — they would glance at me casually, 
then turn away and go on talking to someone else. 

The peculiar relationship I’d had with my boyhood 
acquaintances — of being invisible to them — was repeated 
now in my early manhood. People were always bumping 
into me. The more inconsequential I was, the more em- 
barrassed 1 became. Inevitably I was fired, or the next 
thing to it. Out of respect for my father, his old friend 
let me try selling encyclopedias from door to door. 



[ 41 ] 

This was the beginning of a miserable life for me. I 
walked from one end of 'the city to the other, staggering 
under the weight of all those books, dropping them, pick- 
ing them up wet and dirty, having to pay for the dam- 
aged volumes, lugging them to a door and then, as the 
housewife peered out, dropping them. I was repulsed al- 
ways. Day after day with all the world’s knowledge in 
my arms, I couldn’t sell a single volume. 

I fled through the years, stumbling from one job to 
another. My savings were used up. I went down and 
down the social scale. With each new job I became more 
timid and unprepossessing. I worked at lunch counters, 
cleaned kitchens. Finally I was clean-up man at an ani- 
mal hospital. One day just before lunch the superin- 
tendent came up to me and said: “I have bad news for 
youl” I shouted at him: “Oh, nol I quit! I quit!” I 
rushed into the street. 

It was a lovely blue noon. I will never forget that day. 
The sun seemed to bathe the sidewalk and all the people 
with a bright godly balm. God seemed to have relented 
and forgiven me (and everyone) all sins that could pos- 
sibly be committed. I imagined a healing power in the 
soft sunlight. Desperation left me. I gazed at my fellow 
men and women passing by and suddenly I wasn’t afraid 
of them. 

I thought: ‘Here I am, a lonely and unattractive man 
on a street comer. Why is this? What is it that prevents 
me from becoming everybody’s comrade?’ I didn’t ask 
the question resentfully. I was in a dreamy mood. I said 
to myself: ‘If I could only be in the middle of them all, 
looking the same, 



[ 42 ] 

feeling the same, 
and believing the same 

things they do — if »I could be just like everybody else, 
no more harm and suffering would come to me!’ It had 
started as a reverie, but now the idea took violent hold 
of me. 

I longed somehow to he able, by an act of will, to dis- 
appear into that crowd and emerge after a while with an 
absolutely common face, a new presence, a new soul even 
— to be not myself any more, but somebody else. Or 
everybody else, the average person ! 

All my misery and “apartness” was a result of wander- 
ing about the edges of life, of being different from others. 
If it were possible to find out what people were in the 
average — and place myself in the exact center of the 
crowd and become The Average Fellow . . . 

Oh, heaven! I was laughing. If I could! If a rejected 
man could reject himself, abandon the self that others 
^despised, and simply melt into them alll What was stop- 
ping me? Why couldn’t I step out of my self and walk 
away from “it” — just begin to walk? 

I heard a rushing sound like wings and thought I was 
swooning away. 

I remember. I was in the exact center of town. I was 
staring at a brick wall, particularly at the central brick 
on my eye level. This brick. It blocked up the comem of 
my mind. Six inches from my eyes, it was rough, red, 
porous, slashed by a nail someone had dragged across the 
surface. And I was thinking: 'We’re all particles, the 
same.’ In sameness there was strength, what held us 
together. ... I, felt vaguely that my mind was losing 



[ 43 ] 

me, that I was separating from myself, drifting off. My 
identity was disappearing into this rock. What was I? 
Clay. An extension of dust, accidentally assembled, soon 
to fall apart. A form among infinite forms min g ling 
together and vanishing. Drawing my anonymity about 
mo like a cloak, I started to walk. 

All that day I walked about the city. I was (although 
I didn’t know it then) taking the Centralist’s Walk — 
nearly asleep, yet alive as no normal waking man has 
ever been. I was not exactly directing myself. Better say 
I gravitated here and there, overhearing voices, spying 
gestures, turning my look on the faces of everybody else. 
I loitered in cafeterias, idled through the parks, in office 
buildings and hotel lobbies. I stalked the poor and rich 
sections. I went everywhere, listening, watching. . . . 
Nothing escaped me. Nor did anyone notice me. They 
never guessed that a human calculating-machine was 
loose among them totaling up their composite state of 
mind, and that I was forming my new character from the 
average of theirs. 

I had to take the Centralist’s Walk to do this. I had 
to be nearly asleep. The way I was, I saw them in slow 
motion. They came drifting toward me. I could see into 
everything that was going on in their minds, and I could 
divine the hidden meanings behind what they said to each 
othgr. I entered into the spirit of each person who walked 
by. I lost my self in the mass, and joined it forever. 

I fell into an ecstasy of mediocrity. Whatever the 
others did, I did. Whatever they thought and wanted, I 
thought and wanted. Casually, I batted the breeze with 
strangers and found that my trivialities were welcome. I 



was rocked by waves of happiness as I realized and re- 
realized that I (or the identity I had taken on) was no 
different froiA anyone. “But who am I? What am I?” I 
cried out, suddenly panic-stricken by the thought that 
it was getting dark. I would soon have to go to sleep, 
and perhaps I would wake up my old self. My escape 
from that wretched condition had been accidental. I had 
somehow gone to sleep on a street comer and become 
new. Would I be able to manage it again? 

It had begun to rain. I decided to rush home and write 
down everything that had happened to me, noting the 
smallest details. In this way I would be sure to remember 
— but I had to hurry 1 

My streetcar rolled clanging past leaping, protesting 
figures. “Express !” the motorman was exclaiming angrily. 
“Express, damn you! I got my orders.” 

I was looking, I thought, out the window when all of 
a sudden I discovered something printed in the glass. 
You know the transparent chains that sometimes swim 
across your eyeballs. These chains, mingling with rain- 
drops, were forming a kind of structure along the pane. 
There was a single raindrop in the center of the pane. It 
was surrounded by a network of transparent chains, 
and as the chains descended, so did the drop, keeping 
the formation peifect, the raindrop centralizing itself, I 
thought, and then I had it — only a wqrd, but The Word, 
expressing it all: 



CENTRALISM 


I jumped from the trolley while it was still moving. I 
ran home, treasuring the discovery in my mind. I ran 
upstairs, and seized pencil and paper. Then I had a vision. 

I was looking at a city. Above the building^ and towers 
floated a sphere, like a halo, representing the community 
soul. The sphere was not perfect, nor was it constant. It 
kept varying 3lightly, bulging here and hollowing there. 
But it was roughly a sphere. 

I observed people walking in the city, and most of 
them had the same kind of spherical halos floating over 
their heads. At times a wave of “popular opinion” would 
alter the shape of these little spherical selves. Then the 
large form that floated above the city would be similarly 
altered. Basically, though, among the more normal (and 
therefore happier) people, general sphericity prevailed. 

But there were those whose souls were triangular. They 
walked the streets in wretchedness. They were snubbed 
and humiliated and kept in a state of chronic unemploy- 
ment, because their souls did not fit in with those of the 
regular people. The more triangular they were, the more 
they suffered. Some were capable of bending slightly, and 
their misery was relieved from time to time. But those 
who were rigidly #nd psychopathically triangular burst 
into tears or shot themselves. 

I drew closer, and the city dissolved into many cities. 
Everywhere I saw hundreds and thousands of men and 
women with triangular selves struggling hopelessly 



[ 46 ] 

through life. I was filled with a vast and understanding 
pity for tRem. ‘Must this be?* I thought angrily. ‘Must 
we, through no fault of our own, suffer from the eternal 
“Abnormality” laid upon us?' (For as I watched the army 
of misfits crying in the /streets, I observed that some 
selves were bom “abnormal,” while others were subse- 
quently twisted into ugly* shapes — as mine had been — by 
force of circumstances.) 

‘But now/ I thought, ‘i can save you all.’ 



The Confessions if Dr. Hodosto.(3) 
The Doctrine of Centralism 


1. Since your self grates on others, and makes you 
miserable, get rid of it. 

2. In our society, in our time, it does not pay to be 
yourself. People laugh at you and call you strhnge — even 
if it was your fatner’s fault. 

3. Look around you, and see who is the happy man. He 
is the one Just Like Everybody Else. “Oh, so that is the 
way to be?” you ask, and I say, yes, that is the way 
you and I must be. 

4- You are a sensitive person in a world of Brutes. 
Like a feeble animal, you need protective coloration. You 
must hide. 

B. The only place to hide is in the center of their cul- 
ture. Be more average than anyone 1 

6. From this moment on, have no self. 

7. Have no mind of your own. Have no thought, opin- 
ion, habit, no desire or preference, no enthusiasm, love, 
or fear of your own. Be the composite of your neighbors. 

S. When you have not a shred of individuality left, 
no one can clash with you. Once you reach this state, it 
will be absolutely impossible for you to be unhappy. 

9. You wonder again, anxiously: “Is this the way to 
be?” and I say, yes. What other chance do we have? 
Because we are sensitive and “different,” they pick on 



[48] 

us. They set Brutish standards, and call us misfits for 
not measuring up to them. To survive, we must become 
happy nothings. 

10. We’ll form a massive nothing in the heart of the 
United States of Americ^, and operate from there. 

II 

11. This is the way you melt into the Community 
Mind: stabe at one object. For instance, you might 
choose an awning or a drain pipe. Stare at it until you 
lose yourself. Then begin the Centralist’s Walk through 
the streets. 

12. It is an unusual sensation. There will be a hush 
all around you. Hear the people. All the faces have 
bright eyes. Their voices come through the uproarious 
silence and whisper in your ear. You will obtain an 
instantaneous fix on many lonelinesses. Louts meditate 
for you. A cry of anxiety rings out of a horselaugh. 

< IS. After a while, all the ideas that inhabit the town 
inhabit you. 

14. When the sleepwalk is over, you wake up The 
Central Man in town. There is a moment when the 
intolerable burden of self is lifted from you. Oh, if you 
could only know how it feels to be free of caring about 
anything. Drifting along in the center of the crowd, 
you are utterly happy. Peace radiates from you, making 
others happy. And this gives you practically limitless 
power over others 1 

16. It is the power of averageness. Nobody can resist 
you. How could they? You are the Norm around which 
their own lives are arranged. They are completely cen- 



[49] 

tralized by you. Without knowing it, they want to yield 
to you, because each one sees himself in your image, and 
they all love you as they love themselves. 

Ill 

The Central Man comprehends all variations from 
the average, including the extremes, because they went 
into forming him. Thus, he can centralize the wildest 
hermit or the dullest clerk, and make them love him 
and buy whatever he has to sell. The hermit will detect 
a brother wiH man ; the clerk will respond to-the image 
of a fellow clod. The Centralist assumes either of their 
identities at will. He does so automatically. But he has 
no personality of his own, for this is the very condition 
of his happiness. 

17. Remember that in yourself you hre nothing. This 
means that you cannot be alone too long, for then you 
will have no one to “be.” If you do not see people, you 
may faint and forget, and the vestiges of your old, per- 
manent self will drag at you and pull you back toward 
your former state. 

18. Realize that your initial happiness is not perma- 
nent. You will have to practice for quite a while, and 
melt into all kinds of towns, before you can adjust effort- 
lessly to any circumstance. 

IQ. One rule will protect you — make the idea of Cen- 
trality a fixation.. Maintain a fanatic devotion to the 
center of everything, live centrally. Even this. Live as 
close as possible to the geographical center of town. 
There is no joking. The idea should permeate everything 
you do. Pursue it to any lengths— your position in a 



[ 50 ] 

group photograph, your seat in a bus. Such apparently 
meaningless acts add up to one dominating reflex, so 
that eventually — even when there is no pleasure or point 
in doing so— you will take your place in the center, 
where no harm can come to you. 

50. I also tell you believe and think centrally, 
which is to say believe in nothing, but give your loyalty 
to any popular cause in the vicinity. And give it pre- 
cisely in half-measure, depending on what your neigh- 
bors believe. If they despise a certain race, join mod- 
erately in the pleasures of contempt. But then, supposing 
a liberal element comeB to town, trim your position. You 
have to adjust, like the wire-walker carrying a long 
pole, who keeps his eyes on the dips and lifts of the 
pole ends, and takes warning from them in time to main- 
tain his balance. So, when the liberals come, your old 
position is slightly unbalanced, and you change your 
beliefs. Say, perhaps: “There are some good ones.” With 
the arrival of 'more leftists, cite scientific evidence of the 
equality of races. 

51. If this disturbs you, I will go further. I tell you, 
you have no morals any more. Prepare to do good and 
beautiful things and monstrous things. You will love God 
when you are with good people. But if some Maynard 
comes into your life, you will not be afraid to deny God 
and drink toasts to the death of God with a townful of 
atheists, for you are not religious and you are not an 
atheist. You are both and neither. Just as you are a 
moderate drunkard among drunkards. Or if you are a 
prison guard, you will be just as brutal as the others. 
But I can see you in the time of the great floods. When 



[51] 

the Red Cross atmosphere is everywhere, and the news- 
reel cameras take pictures of heroes risking their necks 
to get people down off the housetops, »you will be in one 
of those boats with a baby safe in your arms. 

22. I say also, I will go further. When I took the Cen- 
trist's Walk in the city of M , I saw some oafs 

teasing a waitress, and I believed then in teasing helpless 
girls, and I joined them (rough men who would normally 
have frightened me), and by making insulting remarks 
to the waitress I made them love me, and they begged me 
to go bowling 

23. Now you are beginning to see the conditions of 
your happiness, and the power you will have. You will 
think in the center, and be ready to delight in trivialities. 
Care which team wins. Spend hours comparing the kinds 
of gasoline that all come from the same pipeline. Every 
time you wash your car it always rains, if that’s the 
general story. Throw salt over your shoulder. Knock on 
wood. 

24. You will also behave centrally. This means that 
for every man you talk to, the very air becomes a mirror. 
And every woman sees in you the kind of man who rests 
her at that moment. That is your secret. You rest people, 
often — especially in a group — without their being aware 
of you. At any party you are the fellow getting ice 
cubes. You’re “around,” virtually invisible, yet the gath- 
ering revolves about you. When you leave, a great nerv- 
ousness may fall on everyone. 

26. I tell you to work centrally. Despite your power 
to make anyone do your bidding, you should not rise to 
the top. Get ahead, but moderately. Work at a typical 



[52] 

job for an ordinary salary. The extremes of worldly 
success and failure are equally dangerous, because they 
throw you off s center. Failure begets worry and the poor 
opinion of others. Success creates prominence and the 
envy of others. Both prevent your remaining Central. 

26. play centrally. Never be a champion. In tourna- 
ments lose out deftly ih the middle rounds. You will 
know the joys of coming in second when the chips are 
down. Remember that the champion is a plaything in 
your hands. He will flourish and die, but you will endure. 
When all the tournaments are over (because everyone 
must have the same ability), you will have your day. 

27. Finally, you must abandon Love. Is this a sacri- 
fice? I ask you, how can you love? For you, love is the 
last enemy — a terrible, unbalancing, uncalculated thing, 
ruinous to the peace of mind, destroyer of urbanity, a 
most individual process of caring that will end you, I 
warn. The Centralist practices love, but cannot for one 
unguarded moment permit it in his heart. He is the virtu- 
oso of love, who can produce greater, shall I say, amounts 
of love, of the highest quality — greater than the sickliest- 
hearted worshipper— yet, for his survival, feel none of it. 

28. I come to the final equilibrium, and ask you, 
savagely, is' this sacrifice too much? Or would you rather 
return to the “individual” state, and have them sneer and 
laugh at you, and give you dirty clean-up jobs in aqjmal 
houses? Go back, thenl I assure you, they are waiting, 
poised to ignore you. 

29. My enemies will say to you that Centralism is un- 
principled, but I demand: “Where are their fabulous prin- 
ciples, in so far. as they ever applied to ust” We bring 



encyclopedias to their doors. What principles prevented 
all those doors from slamming in our earnest fates? Oh, 
no! We know their world. Science is disproving all their 
principles, and showing that they are nothing. All their 
prophets had bad sex lives. All through history, it's not 
whafyou know, but who you know. 

SO. Listen. Modest, safe, and sure. That’s the way to 
power. Are you afraid of obscurity? But, my boy, my son, 
we will be everywhere. All of us, running things. Only 
give your self up. Come with me, and together we will 
infiltrate bark into the world that rejected us. 


Sr, Iitatt 




Chapter VII A New Life 


The moon discovered a shape thrashing 
beneath its tovu of sheets and blankets. Presently Hal 
struggled from the bedclothes and stood up. He stretched 
his arms, gave a long shudder, and relaxed. Then with 
careful dreamlike movements he began to dress. He put 
on his hat. Coat hangers jingled as he went out, closing 
the door behind him. 

He went dreamily downstairs and on down to the 
cellar. He stayed there about ten. minutes. When he 
emerged he was clutching an iron box and a duffel bag 
filled with assorted works of art. A duck’s head, protrud- 
ing comically through a hole in the canvas, waggled with 
his every step. 

He ambled into the warm midnight of Marlborough 
Street. Carrying his burdens to the comer, he gently laid 
the box and bag in the trash barrel. 

Thtfh he returned to his room and started, in the mid- 
dle of the night, to pack his suitcases. 



Part One 56 

Chapter VIII Exterminator at Work 


Tot exterminator found out about Hal 
Hingham, and wished he hadn’t. He visited Mrs. Doyle’s 
rooming-house on the first and fifteenth of each month 
to knock off cockroaches wherever he found them, which 
was inevitably in all the* bathrooms and in the landlady’s 
kitchen. He came also for his pleasure — that is, for a 
couple of years now it had been his custom to climax the 
tour of duty upstairs with a fast five minutes of love 
with the lady of the house. He had stumbled on this 
bonanza; or, rather, it had sandbagged him, he said, “out 
of no place.” 

He looked as though he had been heaped out of 
yellow-brown clay, massive above the waist in the mold 
of a hero, with an outcropping of biceps and triceps that 
kept his arms perpetually bowed out from his sides. Un- 
fortunately the rest of him fell away to a pair of straggly 
,.short legs. His head too was an apologetic afterthought 
for a hero. The mouse-colored hair swept to a point. His 
horn-rimmed glasses, contracted brows, and sallow, stub- 
bly skin gave him a submerged appearance, as if he had 
abandoned all joys, excepting one, and given over his 
life to the endless labor of exterminating cockroaches. 
His face lighted a bit, though, when he told his friends 
what had happened the first time he poked his head into 
Airs. Doyle’s gloomy hallway and yelled: “Extermi- 
nator!” before going upstairs. 

It was the goddamndest thing, he said. He had just 
finished with the kitchen when she claimed she’d seen 
roaches in the bedroom and wanted him to use his squirt 



57 


viii Exterminator at Work 


gun in there. She’d been floating along with him up and 
down all the floors like a big white logy balloon, -•bump- 
ing up against him and practically falling out of her 
dress when she bent over, but he hadn’t thought any- 
thing of that. Sometimes when their husbands were away 
the^ liked to fool with you, but it was more or less" to be 
sociable, and how was he to know that Old Man Doyle 
had been dead for eighteen and a half months? Anyway, 
he was kneeling and firing under the bed at nothing he 
could see but dust when all of a sudden he felt a tre- 
mendous soft weight bearing down on him, and she was 
kissing him behind the ears saying she just had to. . . . 
Before he knew it he was sprawled on the bed (still 
holding his cockroach gun) and rolling around with a 
two-ton earthquake, and trying to breathe through ex- 
plosions of kisses like — well, he had never known or 
dreamed of anything like it, “and you never did either,” 
he jibed at the envious ones. 

After that it got to be a habit, with no questions asked. 
Sometimes, especially if he had a busy schedule, it was 
just a grab and a wrestle, in-again-out-again-Finnegan 
and good-by. Other days they would talk and get to know 
each other. You couldn’t tell about her. Every so often 
she liked to be quiet. She would just lie there babbling 
about this and that, and no matter how he tried to cap- 
ture Ijer attention she would ramble on. 

It was a dewy, breezy May morning, the morning of 
the fifteenth. The exterminator strolled up the front 
walk whistling “Yankee Doodle” and grinning at the 
thought that he too would be going to town, in his fash- 



Part One 


58 


ion, as soon as he got rid of the upstairs roaches. He 
stuck his head in the doorway, crying, as usual: “Exter- 
minator!” Hearing her answer from somewhere inside, 
he went up to the top floor. The can up there was in 
bad shape. Roaches were running all over the place. He 
shook his head disgustedly, and his eyes gleamed behind 
the hom-rimmed spectacles. He went down on one knee 
like a machine gunner, firing streams of musky liquid 
into all the comers. Clouds of spray filled the bathroom. 
The roaches keeled over one after another until not one 
could be seen moving. “There!” he murmured, and with 
a pleased glance at the linoleum battlefield he went 
down to the next landing. 

On the stairway he encountered a young tenant whose 
face was familiar. “Hey, have the roaches been much 
trouble this month?” he asked. 

“That’s a coincidence,” answered the young fellow, 
who was lugging a pair of heavy suitcases. “1 was just 
noticing that there weren’t so many around this month. 
You must have done a pretty good job.” 

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the exterminator, and by 
way of showing his thanks he inquired: “Leaving?” 

The young fellow nodded. “That’s right, I’m pulling 
up stakes.” 

“Need any Help?” 

The boy thanked him; no, he didn’t. He struggled off 
downstairs with the suitcases bumping his heels, and the 
exterminator continued on his rounds. 

“Feeling pretty good today,” he murmured to himself. 
He felt kind'of like a rough-and-tumble, but when she 



59 


viii Exterminator at Work 


opened the door he recognized the mild, distracted look 
on her pink face, and knew that it would have to be a 
quiet one. 

“What’s the trouble, baby?” he asked, while he care- 
fully squirted around the sink. 

Sfife fell back into her rocking-chair, fanning herself 
with a damp towel. It was something she did a great deal 
of the time, for the kitchen was humid to the point of 
fogginess, and ventilated like a small stockyard. 

“Did you see him?” she gasped. “He’s leaving, he re- 
ally is!” 

The exterminator approached her, breathing hard. 

“Who’s leaving, baby? What’s the difference? Come 
on, I never felt so good, I — ” 

She fended him off, going on in the same tone of 
absent-minded distress: “I don’t see what got into him. 
He says he’s got to move to the Circle Hotel. I asked him 
why, and he says: ‘Oh, it’s nearer the center of things.’ 
Why does he have to be in the center? Where does he 
think he’s going to get the money to stay at a hotel like 
that? I thought, maybe I hurt his feelings — ” 

“Oh, my Jesus!” the exterminator interrupted with an 
anguished whisper. He had taken hold of one pulpy arm, 
and such was his condition and the tropical atmosphere 
of the kitchen that the flesh in his hand drove him al- 
most put of his mind. 

“Well, I saw him,” he said desperately, without much 
sense, “he’s all right. Don’t worry about him. I tell you, 
he’s a good kid. So what if he’s leaving? \ou can get 
twenty guys by tomorrow, so will you please — ” 

She allowed him to haul her into the parlor, but even 

c 



Part One 


60 


as he began kissing her she went on plaintively: “I didn’t 
mean to scare him about raising the rent. He shouldn’t 
have taken it sb seriously. ‘Goodness knows,’ I said, 
‘that’s all right, Mr. Hingham, just forget I ever men- 
tioned it.’ But no, he says, without any resentfulness at 
all, He’s got to leave for business reasons. He didn’t 
seem to be mad or anything, but he was funny. For in- 
stance, he was smoking a cigarette, and he never used to. 
You know, he was always such a nice boy; you could be 
sure there wasn’t any harm in him. T his morning, 
though, the way he looked at me ... I mean, he was 
still shy, but with a boldness too, as if he was sweet six- 
teen but if he had the chance — Ooh! What are you try- 
ing to do, sweetie, break my back*” 

“Oh lord, baby, be with me!” the exterminator cried, 
with his sallow face screwed into a kind of agony and his 
glasses falling down to his nostrils. “Talk to me, be with 
me!” 

“Make me know it, baby,” she replied dutifully, elud- 
ing his frantic mouth, then explaining to the wall: “It’s 
not the money I lose until the next one moves in . . . 
but he was such a well-appearing, well-spoken ... oh 
... I was getting to know. . . . and who’ll I get now — 
a firebug maybe, some crook.” 

With what seemed to be his last breath the extermina- 
tor groaned: “Oh, christly!” 

“What I mean is, it’s not nice for people to say about 
my house that a fellow would leave when rooms are 
hard to get. It’s like an insult. . . . What’s the matter, 
honey, are you mad with me?” 

She patted her lover on his pointed, thatched-roof 



61 


dc In the Center 


head. She searched the length of him with motherly con- 
cem and would have closed him in her arms* But he 
pushed her rudely on the chin, stotfd up, and began 
straightening his clothes. 

“Oh, lovely! I’m sorry, it’s just that I was worrying.” 

fhe exterminator continued sullenly to avoid her 
eyes. “Just like a woman,” he snarled. Reaching for his 
cockroach gun, he started for the door. She rose from 
the couch and rolled toward him, her arms outflung, in 
massive uncorseted disorder. 

“You’ll be coming back, won’t you?” she begged. 

“Well, I don’t know,” said the exterminator in an in- 
jured tone. “I don’t know as I’m welcome.” 

At this she fell on his shoulders, beseeching his for- 
giveness. The next time things would be different. 

“All right,” the exterminator agreed after a while. He 
had to be getting on, and her embraces were already 
having an effect on him. 

Outside he heaved a long sigh. He felt sort of small 
and foolish; that was the trouble after being with her. 
He climbed into his truck and raced the motor. ‘Well,’ 
he thought, not for the first time, ‘you can’t be fussy.’ 
Then, pounding a triumphant honk on his horn, he 
drove away. 


Chapter IX In the Center 

The telephone kept ringing, and Hal 
wished someone would answer it. He pulled the pillow 
around his head. He had dreamed that he was in the 



Part One 


62 


middle of a jostling crowd, and suddenly the people 
turned, smiling, and tipped their hats. The room seemed 
to grow lighter, atid he made out the telephone just be- 
yond his hand. Soft alarms were vibrating the little bed 
table. 

“Mr. Hingham 

“Yes. I am.” 

'it’s eight o’clock, sir.” 

“Who?” he said. “Eight. Well, thank you.” 

He lay back peacefully, and as the room took shape so 
did his new life that had brought him here. In the weak 
morning light he saw the fragments of himself, hotel 
guest. His suitcases lay open and empty on the rug where 
he had left them yesterday, before starting on the Walk. 
His suits seemed a row of Hal Hinghams in the closet, 
primly right-faced, as if waiting to reach for a necktie 
and march away in the shiny shoes arranged below them. 

The morning was gray. Gusts smote the wet window- 
panes. He felt the shaking of the wind, and something 
clanked outside his window. He didn’t mind. He liked it 
here at the Qrcle Hotel. His muscles ached from yester- 
day’s exercise. He could remember hardly anything of 
the Walk — not that this mattered. His experiences were 
stored away in his unconscious mind, and would auto- 
matically give him the right answers when the time came 
to centralize someone. 

The idea occurred to him: ‘Everybody’s getting up 
now.’ He shaved and showered, and the bathroom ech- 
oed with his tuneless whistling. Presently he stood in the 
middle of the room in his neat gabardine and topcoat, 
wearing the soft* brown hat slanted down over his brow. 



63 


ix In the Center 


He had a yague feeling of having lost something, and 
searched his pockets. It couldn’t be important; he de- 
cided, and went downstairs. 

The desk clerk with the nervous stomach beamed at 
him. “How did it go last night, sir?” 

%ine! ” Hal called back, still not knowing what he was 
going to say until, marvelously, it was on his tongue: 
“That hot-milk idea of yours did the trick!” He crossed 
the lobby. In a succession of long mirrors he saw the 
clerk bemused in admiration of himself. 

Outside, in the raw weather, he started for "his office. 
As he walked up Boyleston Street, the wind lessened. In 
the distance, the towers of the Arcadia Life building re- 
minded him of his safe and modest place in the scheme 
of things. He was on his way to ask Fred Purdy’s permis- 
sion to Take A Business Trip. On this trip he would 
Make Good. But before leaving town, at his age, he 
would get engaged tonight to the Sweetest Girl In The 
World. ‘How easy it all is when you just do what you’re 
supposed to do,’ he thought happily. 

He told Fred Purdy that he wanted to try his luck in 
Bradford and Riverton, the territory where his dad had 
got started. 

“Outdo the old man?” he laughed. “No, I’m only go- 
ing to make a little splash. Your fellows down there 
won’t notice me.” 

“Why the sudden ambition?” asked the agency- 
director. He was thinking that it would be a relief not to 
see Hingham’s wounded personality every morning. 

“It’s your doing, Mr. Purdy — the last time we talked. 



Part One 


64 


You’ve made me realize that life is a complete waste of 
time, biA I mjght as well waste it profitably, don’t you 
think?” 

“All right, go ahead,” said Purdy absently. 

“It’s wonderful not to, believe in anything,” said Hing- 
ham, getting up. “As you say, unbelief frees a man for 
action. I want to thank you.” 

“What?” 

“I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks. I hope the com- 
pany will have faith in me — for laughs, of course.” 

“Hey, what’s happened to you?” Fred Purdy cried in 
delight. He had always wanted a son to join him in mak- 
ing fun of the world. 

But Hingham was already on his way. 

After lunch Hal went back to his hotel room with 
three boxes containing blank insurance policies. He put 
these in one suitcase, and packed the other with his ny- 
lon traveling clothes. Then, having nothing to do until 
his date with Rose, he sat down with the Revelations. 
One passage had been bothering him— the work cen- 
trally commandment. He read: 

Despite your power to make anyone do your bid- 
ding, you should not rise to the top. Get ahead, but 
moderately. W~>rk at a typical job for an ordinary 
salary. . . . 

It didn’t seem right A Centralist had no way of insur- 
ing his future. Somewhere along the line (Dr. Modesto 
didn’t mention this) it was perfectly possible that he 
might wake up’one morning to find that he had lost his 



65 x Spring Practice 

Centralistic .powers. Without his protective magic, he 
would once again be helpless before the contempt and 
indifference of the world. But if he* had money this 
couldn’t happen. All he asked was a bit of security. . . . 

iMvas wrong to doubt Dr. Modesto. -He drove the de- 
structive little thoughts out of his mind, and forced his 
attention on something else — his evening with Rose. He 
was dressing for the most important date of his life. This 
time, for once, he wouldn’t be afraid of running into her 
roommate and the football-player. He actually hoped 
that Gladyj and Heffernan would be there. He would 
amaze them. In the past he had been paralyzed by their 
heavy humor. He had cowered in the corner and desper- 
ately read magazines while they horsed around the 
living-room. But tonight he would know how to horse 
and banter with Gladys, and win Heffeman’s respect 
with uncouth remarks. 


'Chapter X Spring Practice 

The golden-haired girl moved along the 
sideline. They had just turned the floodlights on. The 
lamps glared through the drizzle, giving the ground a 
frosty look, although it was far too warm for football on 
the last day of spring practice. 

“run it again, just easy now!” a voice roared from 
somewhere out of the floodlights. The command echoed 
around the empty stadium. The speaker was resting on 
one knee under an umbrella. His coat sleeve brushed 
the' hand microphone and the atmosphere crackled. He 



Part One 


66 


was surrounded by several other umbrellas under which 
his assistants and half a dozen sportswriters huddled and 
made notes. 

The girl looked nine feet tall as she walked away from 
them. Her transparent raincoat blazed as if lighted from 
within. She seemed a hardy apparition stalking the field, 
impatient for the best player to come and claim her. 

“run it!” 

The quarterback bent over behind the center, calling 
signals. The opposing lines crouched in the mud, but 
when the ball was snapped they moved gently against 
one another — with the exception of the defensive left 
tackle. He went slaughtering through token resistance, 
and as the little quarterback ran wide behind his block- 
ers the entire backfield was suddenly piled up and 
smashed back onto the ball-carrier. They all went down 
in a stunned heap near the sideline where the girl 
stopped pacing and examined them with cold distaste. 

“judas priest, heffernan! i said take it easy!” The 
voice out of the amplifier filled the sky. 

A figure carrying a black bag ran out on the field. 

“What was the idea of that, Heffernan!” 

But the tackle ignored the frantic voices. He was pur- 
suing the tall blonde in the bright raincoat down the 
sideline. She ran easily, but in no hurry. He caught her 
by the boards and, after a brief struggle, plastered, a kiss 
on her. Then he came loping back, occasionally leaping 
in great hurdles through the air. 

“A big kid,” muttered a sportswriter disgustedly. 

“So he’s going to be All-America — does he have a li- 
cense — ” 



67 x Spring Practice 

“They give that Heffeman too much latitude. It’ll 
catch up with ’em, bringing his girl to practice.* Look at 
her!’’ another said. 

She had returned, and as coolly as before watched the 
dqctor get the shattered backfield on its feet. “They’re 
all going to live, coach!” he called out. 

“okay, let’s run it over again.” 

In the stands, a bantam, bleak-faced spectator help- 
lessly followed the girl’s every move and brooded on his 
distorted sexuality. Jack Swan handled public relations 
for the team, k was one of his lesser accounts-^-not to be 
compared, for example, with a client like Arcadia Life 
— but he was paying entirely too much attention to the 
Bay State U. Athletic Association. He knew why. It was 
the chance of seeing her. He crouched under his drip- 
ping hat and thought about himself. Thirty-five and 
married, he was infatuated with this great creature who 
belonged to a football-player. 

He hadn’t so much as kissed her, yet he couldn’t get 
Gladys out of his mind. He hung about in the wings, 
sick with lust. She was ruining him. He concentrated 
more on her than on his job. Worse, when he did see her 
she made him act like a fool. 

His chance came during the uproar over Heffeman. 
He quickly went down to the sideline and approached 
her in the obsequious manner he was helpless to control. 

“How that guy of yours can hit!” 

“Yes,” she replied, unmoved, looking down on him as 
she always did, making a point of it. “Are you ready for 
tonight like we agreed?” 

He wondered whether she had any idea what he really 



Part One 


68 


thought of Heffeman. “Sure, Gladys. You \yant me to 
really pitch, as if I — ” 

“I want to get Rose away from this Hingham creep. 
We’ll take her to the party and introduce her around. 
You just show her a good time, but no passes,’’ she re- 
minded him sternly. 

“I know, beautiful.” ^ie dared to pat her. “What’s the 
program?” 

“We’ll meet Johnny at the Growler. Then I have to go 
home and sort of tell her gradually. You two can wait 
and have a few.” Unexpectedly she favored him with a 
smile. “Remember the last time he broke training?” 

“Yes,” he said. 

Seeing that Heffeman was about to come off the field, 
he returned to his place in the stands. 

Later, in the Growler, while they waited for Johnny 
Heffeman, Swan suspected that he would have been bet- 
ter off missing the big drunk. It could be a nasty eve- 
ning, he thought, with Heffeman loaded, and this room- 
mate he was supposed to kid along but not lay his hands 
on. . . . He had heard of the roommate. A dud. Still, he 
would have to do his best. He looked at Gladys out of 
the comer of his eye, and a small thrill went through 
him. He would hate to cross her! 

The hot beer hall gave him a flushed and sensual, feel- 
ing. At the other tables the college boys were already 
chug-a-lugging, and mauling their dates. Gladys’s big 
white shoulder excited him. She must have noticed it, 
for she put her arm against his, rocking hiip a little, and 
he felt her careless affection and contempt. 



69 z Spring Practice 

He knew .his position was in a small way humiliating. 
Perhaps he ought to try acting superior to hef — as if 
anyone could, he thought with odd satisfaction. He im- 
agined her at the hospital, where she was a nurse. She 
marched through the wards, no doubt, her voice carry- 
ing everywhere. She was really stupid, he thought with 
sudden vindictiveness. Her arrogance was founded on 
stupidity. Or was it all physical? Because she was so big? 

He liked her style. She strode about in a manner that 
said nobody ever violated this girl. But she had been, 
many times. He could imagine how often Heffernan put 
the boots to her. 

Gladys yawned and drained her glass of beer, and he 
cried: “Waiter! Waiter! Two more!” 

He remembered the last time, the last drunk at her 
place when Heffernan got to the point he always did, of 
wanting to wrestle. (She had sent the roommate off 
somewhere.) His stunt was to wrestle three men at once, 
and he did, and threw everybody over the couches. And 
suddenly he had turned to her, saying: “I’m ready, 
baby!” When everybody saw the way they looked at each 
other, the whole crowd ran for the door. For a moment, 
in the corridor, he’d had a sneaking desire to go back 
and watch or at least listen. But he was never even to 
glimpse her, he knew, except the way he did now. 

“Here he comes,” she was saying, “move over,” and 
her command was bis wish. 

Heffernan came in, and a few cheers went up. The 
college boys reached out to shake hands, or just touch 
him. He was picking his nose and looked at nobody. He 
had a placid, almost sleepy mien — unless he was playing 



Part One 


70 


football or drunk. He sat down without saying anything. 
Swan twiste^ around avidly, watching Gladys regard her 
man with growing pleasure. 

“You’re already out of shape, you big tank,” she said. 

The tackle chewed gjim steadily. “You think so 5 ” he 
said. He rolled up his shirt. “Go ahead.” 

The girl laughed and struck him hard near the belt 
line, causing him to wince. 

“Wise apple,” he said. “You hit low.” 

Swan laughed meanly: “Some punch,” and wished he 
hadn’t, because Heifeman immediately got red. He 
laughed hurriedly as the football-player grabbed his glass 
of beer. “Take it, Johnny! I’ve got a head start on you.” 

The football-player pushed his thumb in Swan’s direc- 
tion. “What’s Shrimpo here for?” he asked Gladys. 

“I brought him for Rose, honey. It’s all right with 
you, isn’t it? He’s just the right size for her too,” she 
added, nudging Swan with her shoulder. 

He sat there meekly, after having his hair tousled, but 
his pride was hurt at last, and he asked himself: ‘What 
am I doing here with this pair of animals? I am their 
superior in every way, except the physical.’ At moments 
he hated her. She was bold and yet bovine, as Iieffeman 
was placid and bovine. They were bull and cow to his 
— what? Rabbit. 'But I’m a man,’ thought Swan, ‘an 
educated man. I should be able to rise above my perver- 
sions.’ 

“You don’t mind if he and Rose come along, do you, 
honey?” asked Gladys, clasping the football-player’s 
hand. 

Heffeman pdpped his gum. “I don’t mind anybody,” 



71 


x Spring Practice 

he said finally, “so long as they don’t get wise.” He stood 
up and announced: “I’m gonna get a couple of bottles.” 
Conceit gave his face a peaceful look. 'Swan glanced en- 
viously at the apish arms that Gladys adored. 

“He gets all his liquor from his father’s store,” Gladys 
saidf admiringly, after the football-player had gone. She 
turned to her undersized companion. “Now listen,” she 
said. “The idea is, you give Rose a good time, but no 
funny business. Remember, she’s an innocent kid.” 

“Well, so am I,” began Swan facetiously, until he saw 
that she v.as „crious. At such moments her eyes bulged 
and she pondered ioudly over the most trivial matters. 
‘Why does her stupidity excite me?’ he asked himself. He 
was always searching for clues to himself, and this 
seemed a promising lead. But it was too easy: ‘It’s be- 
cause I want her to misunderstand — and hurt me.’ 

“Now listen,” she repeated, unaware of his small start 
of devotion. “Rose is a funny little kid. The trouble is, 
she’s not confident of herself. She’s scared of everybody, 
except this creep she goes with. But she’s worth a lot 
better, if she’d only get out of herself! So that’s what 
you’ve got to do — make her feel like a woman, in a nice 
way.” 

“A nice way? What’s that?” He knew that his laughter 
was foolish. 

“Ypu know what I mean” 

“Oh, yes,” he agreed quickly. He was grateful to her; 
in an animal way she understood him. ‘She’s really kind,’ 
he thought, as she warned him: “You be good!” 



Part One 


72 


Chapter XI Waiting for an Undistinguished 

Lover 

A pale shadowless evening was falling on 
the streets outside her window. Rose wondered whether 
it was going to rain. There was a smell of salt in the air. 
The streetlights were misty. For safety’s sake she would 
take her raincoat, although he might then suggest walk- 
ing in the rain for fun and exercise. 

She moved closer to the window and watched the cou- 
ples strolling in the dusk. She waited without interest for 
his coming. She didn’t mind the waiting. It was when he 
arrived, seeing him, talking to him, that she felt lonely. 
She felt isolated when she walked with him. The timid 
boy friend who took her away from the rest of the world 
did not even want her for himself. 

She was nearly twenty-six. It was time, as Gladys 
said, to give him an ultimatum. The certain outcome of 
this crisis made Rose clench her hands and long to slap 1 
the meek, stubborn smile she knew would appear on 
Hal’s face at the mention of marriage. But she couldn’t 
slap away his weakness. Whatever drastic threat she 
made he would accept as one more misfortune, shrug his 
shoulders hopelessly, and disappear from her life as qui- 
etly and timidly as he had entered it. 

The door slammed and Gladys burst into the bedroom. 
“Rose, come on. We’re going out on a date.” 

“What?” Rose said. “What date?” 

“I’ve got a fellow who wants to meet you. He’s coming 
over with Johnny.” 



73 xi Waiting for an Undistinguished Lover 

“Who? .Oh, no, I can’t! Coming over here ?” 

“In a half-hour. So you hurry — ” 

“Gladys, I can’t. Hal’s going to be— ’ 

“Him,” Gladys laughed. “What difference does he 
make?” 

%he had already undressed and flung herself on the 
bed. Encountering her severe blue eyes, Rose turned 
away and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She 
had never been more unattractive. The little red bowler 
was still askew. It would not sit properly. It perched on 
the very top of her head, tilted, or slid too ‘far to one 
side. No matter how she fixed it, the hat looked as if she 
had dropped it on at the last moment. 

“I’m not going our with you,” she said in a shrill voice. 

“Why not? Didn’t you say last night you ought to get 
rid of him?” 

It was true. 

“Well, this is the way to do it. All at once. Tell him 
you’re sorry but something else has come up.” 

“Please . . .” Rose began. All she could think of was 
that they would soon be at the door, then sitting in the 
living-room, and Hal might walk in on them. “It isn’t 
right without any warning. Say I’ll come with you next 
week,” she pleaded. 

“No,” Gladys said. She was performing a languid ex- 
ercise, arching her back. “I know you. You’d have an- 
other excuse.” She got up and gave Rose a hug. “Don’t 
worry. This fellow is very nice — and I’ll be watching 
over you.” 

As she went into the bathroom, she called back over 
her shoulder: “You’ll thank me, honey!” 



Part One 


74 


The water plunged in the bathtub. Gladys was sing- 
mg. 

Rose crouched ' forward with her elbows on the 
dressing-table, peering desperately into the mirror. She 
pulled the hat this way and that. It seemed to come alive 
as though animated by a jealous witch, clawing her hair 
and catching on the poiht of a loose hairpin. 

‘I’m making it worse,’ she thought, which was true. 
The hat wasn’t the only thing wrong now. Her struggle 
with it had set a progressive ugliness in motion, be- 
ginning with her mouth. Her lips pressed into a thin line. 
Tendons stood out in her neck, deepening the hollows 
there, bringing out the collar bones — accentuating the 
impression of meagerness that she needed, above all 
else, to conceal. It was too bad. Her complexion ap- 
peared to have taken on the hue of tin. She squinted and 
frowned, deteriorating further. The sight of her sharp 
elbows emerging from the short-sleeved green blouse 
cdrove away the last remnants of her self-confidence. 
‘How ugly I am!’ she cried to herself, and the doorbell 
rang. 

“Gladys!” 

There was no answer but a thrashing in the tub. 

“They’re here!” 

“Well, let them in, Rose!” 

“No, I can’t. I aon’t want to see them.” She opened the 
bathroom door, and was hardly able to breathe for the 
steam. “You’ve got to tell them to go away.” 

“Answer the door! What’s the matter?” demanded 
Gladys. 



75 xi Waiting for an Undistinguished Lover 

The bell .rang over and over again under the pressure 
of a heavy thumb. 

“They might see him!” said Rose, in a panic. 

“God!” exclaimed Gladys. She threw on a bathrobe and 
rat} dripping to the front door. There was a stamping 
and commotion in the hallway. 

‘That football-player,’ thought Rose in despair. When 
Gladys came back she clasped her imploringly. “Please 
get them out of here, just for a little while, until after I 
leave with Hal.” 

“You sec. That shows what you think of him. You’re 
ashamed of him.” 

“I’m afraid— ” 

“I wouldn’t think of going with a man my friends 
didn’t respect.” 

Sounds of coarse hilarity came from the living-room, 
and Rose knew that Johnny Heffernan must be getting 
drunk. A mean little laugh followed his guffaw. Her 
date! 

She ran to the bed and threw herself down, in tears. 
Gladys was talking to her soothingly, but she wouldn’t 
answer. She kept whispering: “Please, tell them . . .” 
until Gladys went away. She heard her go into the other 
room and say something. There were more commotions, 
protests, and swearing, but presently all was quiet. Rose 
rested with her head in her arms, exhausted. Gladys 
went back into the bathroom. 

After a while she came out, and Rose lifted her head. 

“Gladys, thank you.” 

Gladys bent over and kissed her. ‘She thinks I’m sick,' 



Part One 


76 


Rose thought. ‘Maybe I am.’ “Did they go?” she asked 
timidly. 

“They sure did, ‘honey.” 

Rose sat up. “I’m sorry.” Tears had brightened her 
green eyes, and as she > struggled to smile she became 
rather charming. “You see, I was afraid — your friends 
wouldn’t like me very much.” 

She didn’t add that she had never liked the kind of 
men Gladys went with. Her roommate traveled with a 
loud buncK. They were good-looking, as a rule, and well 
dressed, and had money. But they were bold and rough. 
They talked in a brutal manner, which changed to a silly 
bantering tone when they spoke to “females.” They were 
also free with their hands. (She couldn’t stand this; her 
elbows would fly up.) She shivered at the idea of being 
married to one of these. Yet all the men she had ever 
been with acted in much the same way — except Hal, 
who refused .to be a man. 

She had met him at a dance given by the alumni of 
the Browning & Snow School of Business Administration. 
The fellow who brought her had got drunk in the men’s 
room. She had turned for help to the nearest boy, Hal, 
who was standing alone watching the dancers. She ex- 
plained her predicament and he was sympathetic. He 
even made an ineffectual attempt to revive the boy in 
the men’s room. 

“ Might as well take you home, I guess.” 

Hal’s lack of aggressiveness had been refreshing then. 
It had seemed cute three years ago. When they walked 
across the Common in the moonlight she had been 
ready for him* to get fresh, but it didn’t enter his head. 



77 xi Waiting for an Undistinguished Lover- 

u Well, good night.” 

In the end it was she who gave him a dry puckering 
kiss and ran into the house. 

“Rose, you’re not wearing that,” said Gladys. 

^Before she could protest, the bowler was whisked 
from her head. 

“Honey, it’s not your style.” Gladys took Rose’s brush 
and comb, and commanded: “You sit still now.” 

In a minute she had all the pins out. Gladys brushed 
her hair in long smooth strokes, each one ending in a 
comforting log, as if to signify: ‘Now that’? done, and 
that one, and that one.’ The rhythmic stroking made 
Rose sleepy. ‘I wish we could stay home by ourselves,’ 
she thought. 

“Rose, you’ve got to hold your head up!” 

She changed her position, but in doing so put herself 
in a bad light. Again her complexion had the tin hue. 
She had wondered, but never dared ask Dr. Warren, 
whether X-ray work might affect her health. Of course 
she stayed out of the room while the picture was being 
snapped, but the secondary radiation that remained 
could do something to a technician over a period of 
years. 

“Now you’re pretty,” said Gladys, stepping back. 
“Look at yourself.” 

She was. Her hair fell in soft black waves. Her image 
in the glass appeared softer and more feminine. 

“Why don’t you change your mind now? Come out 
with us.” 

“No. Maybe some day.” 

“All right,” Gladys said. “I’m going to tell you — and. 



Part One 


78 


believe me, I know — there’s something wrong with you. 
You need to .talk to a psychiatrist." 

“I guess I do,” Rose answered feebly. 

“Otherwise you wouldn’t be hanging on to a fellow 
who doesn’t satisfy you # in any way. He doesn’t even 
want to marry you. Look, honey, you’re getting older.” 

“I know it!” 

“But you’re afraid of men. You’re sticking with this 
one because he never makes a pass, because he doesn’t 
treat you like a woman. Something in your past makes 
you — look. I’m serious. I can get you one of the psychia- 
trists at the hospital.” 

“Yes, it’s probably a good idea,” said Rose in a small, 
choked voice. 

The doorbell sounded, and she ran with teetering little 
steps to answer it. 


Gladys admired herself in black slacks and a black- 
and-white striped blouse. She reminded herself of a lion- 
tamer. But she had to admit exultantly that her guy was 
one who could not be tamed. On this night of the big 
drunk, when the big guy would break training, she felt 
the approaching climax of the season. 

They had saved up for it. The only problem was to 
get the football-player home in shape. For this, Swan 
would be along to help. She paced about the room with 
growing excitement. She thought of Heffeman’s slab of 
a torso, and wild plans began to develop in her mind. 
They were interrupted by a scream from the living-room 
and Rose’s frightened cry: “Hal! What are you doing!” 



79 xii The Love-Date 

Gladys bounded to the door. She heard Hal laugh. 
“That’s right, they’re for you.” 

There was Rose standing in a bad light, an astonished 
little creature whose neck tendons quivered and showed 
tog plainly, holding a long box in which three orchids 
nestled in green tissue paper. 

“Get your coat on,” said her boy friend, chuckling. 
“We’re going to Childs’ Old France.” 


Chapter XII The Love-Date 

“Childs’ Old France,” Hal told the taxi- 
driver. “Make it snappy.” He completely dominated the 
taxi-driver. Once he warned him: “Watch out! Got valu- 
able property in here,” he said. “The girl I’m going to 
marry.” 

“Marry!” said the taxi-driver. “So that’s the story!” 

“Yes,” he said. “So watch out, watch out. This is my 
girl.” 

Hal took her in his arms and kissed her. Girls like 
spontaneity. It makes them think they have driven a 
fellow out of his pattern. With careful spontaneity he 
kissed her again. 

They were caught in traffic, and held hands in the 
gloomy, vibrating cab. The meter ticked, the numbers 
jumped. They only had eyes for each other. He observed 
her luminous little face in the light of a cut-rate drug- 
store. What he saw in her eyes astonished him. He tight- 
ened his grasp on her hands, as if to protect himself 
from the hungry little animal he had created. 



Part One 


80 


In order to centralize himself to her he gazed at the 
drugstore window, and went momentarily to sleep 
among the hoses, home permanents, and syringes. He 
filled his mind with enormous price tags. As the cab be- 
gan to move, he found the mood he wanted, and turned 
to her knowingly — and they were at each other's throats, 
nuzzling and kissing. Before fixing his lips on hers he 
said: “You don’t know how I love you.” 

At Childs’ he argued with the waiters. He was a 
smooth loudmouth. “Not that table on the aisle,” he told 
them. “In the comer. That’s for us. That’s all we want. 
That’s all we’ll take.” They took the reserved sign off in 
a hurry. 

When she came back from powdering her nose, he 
had already ordered her a very dry martini. She watched 
him order — as if he were an habitue of Childs’ — two old- 
fashioneds for him, two martinis for her, shrimp cock- 
tails, soup de.jour, lobsters with drawn butter and fin- 
r gerbowls, and coffee. 

The drinks made her dizzy, and all at once she col- 
lapsed before his charm. She swayed and groped toward 
him. His face had a strange bland beauty that destroyed 
all her inhibitions. She kept reaching for him, and she 
knew she was mouthing confessions and confidences to 
his smiling face v After a while she was laughing hysteri- 
cally because she couldn’t eat any of the lovely things he 
had ordered. Her hunger was only ipr him. He smiled 
wisely and ordered coffee, repeating at intervals, with a 
tenderness she could not possibly deserve from any man: 
“You don’t know, Rose. You just don’t know!” 

The band plfcyed, and they did a wobbly dance. He 



81 


xii iThe Love-Date 


requested a rumba, and they played it. He held himself 
hard against her as they moved from the hips, somehow 
knowing how to do it, hugging one another, swaying and 
falling. Two drunken children in love. > 

T£he dancing and coffee sobered her. But before she 
could get her bearings they were off again. They went 
to one spot after another, in more taxis. 

In the Sphinx Club it happened. A delicate boy was 
playing negligently on a little piano. She realized that 
he was getting really serious. “I’ve got big ambitions 
now!” he whispered, as the piano-player came down 
hard on some blue chords. “I’d like to ask a certain some- 
body if she’d share them with me.” 

She almost fainted. His dry hands clutched her shoul- 
ders. She threw her arms around his neck and hung on 
him. 

“I love you, Hal.” 

“You know what?” he said. “I love you also. Let’s go to 
your house.” 

“I can lick any lousy Harvard bastid in this place.” 

“I’m sure you can, old man. Now would you mind 
leaving us alone?” 

“I’ll leave you on your ass, ’n’ every faaken Harvard — ” 

“Come on, Johnny, Gladys said — ” 

“I cgn whip everybody’s ass.” 

“Sure, you can, but—” 

“Who is this meatball?” 

“Johnny, she’s waiting in the car. Remember, she 
warned you.” 

“What’d he call me?” 



Part One 


82 


“Who? I don’t know. Never mind.” 

“That wife apple over there. I’m gonna belt him!” 

“But Gladys told you — ” 

“Faakah!” 

Gladys heard the familiar tinkle and crash of glass, 
and Swan came running out of the bar across the street. 
She honked the horn and he ran to her. 

“Johnny’s in trouble!” he panted. “I told him what you 
said, but he wouldn’t listen. The police are coming!” 

“Get in,” she said, moving behind the wheel. 

Swan jumped in beside her. He was shivering. 
“Shouldn’t we help him?” he said. “I mean . . .” he ap- 
pealed to her. “Shouldn’t a man try — ” 

“He doesn’t need any help,” she said. She noticed for 
the first time that Swan had eyes like a little bug. He 
was cute. 

“What’s the use of trying to help the big moron? He’s 
going to drink and fight until he passes out,” she said 
bitterly. 

A chair flew out of the bright doorway across the 
street, followed by a man who collapsed on the sidewalk. 
The din increased, and they heard yells and Johnny 
Heffeman’s bellow from within. 

Swan suddenly felt himself seized about the waist. A 
great determined mouth descended on his, and his*senses 
reeled. 

“You’ve waited a long time, Buster,” he heard her say, 
“let’s go do it.” 

He stared at her in terror. It was all very well to 



83 


xh The Love-Date 


dream, but . . . “No!” he cried, breaking out of her arms. 
“I’m going back in there to help my friend!” 

He leaped out of the car. She saw him run madly for 
the doorway, and disappear into the melee just as the 
pojjce car pulled up to the cu r b. 

It was nearly daylight before she and Swan managed 
to bail out the football-player and lug him home. They 
arrived at the door of the frat house, and she could go no 
farther. 

“I’ll get him upstairs — somehow,” Swan gasped. “Got 
to — patch him up.” This was obviously a lie, because 
Heffeman’s fists were the only bruised part of him, and 
the blood spattered over his clothes was that of other 
people. But he was sodden drunk. “Got to see — bones 
broken — ” Swan insisted. He resembled a desperate rab- 
bit in the dawn light. He hadn’t dared look at her since 
the fiasco in the car. 

“Take him,” she said. “I’m sure you boys will get to 
know each other better.” 

She let go her share of the slumbering football- 
player, who toppled out of Swan’s arms and lay spread- 
eagled in a bed of nasturtiums. 

Swan gazed after her as she marched to the car. ‘God,’ 
he thought, ‘I’ve been a failure tonight.’ 

Snores came from the open windows of the frat house. 

Gladys found all the lights in the apartment burning. 
She hurried into the bedroom. Rose was asleep with her 
clothes on. Gladys went quietly to the bed, and stopped 
in amazement. 



Part One 


84 


Rose looked as if she had been badly Injured, but she 
was smiling* Her mouth and cheeks were bruised. Her 
hair was wanton. She seemed almost depraved, with her 
disordered hair, the blouse tom several inches down the 
left shoulder, and the rainbow skirt rumpled and tossed 
halfway up her thighs^ 

Gladys was shocked. ‘Like a little animal,’ she thought, 
and whispered loudly: “Rose!” 

Her roommate stirred and groaned sensually. 

“Rose!” 

She became aware that the sleeper’s eyes had opened. 
Rose was looking at her with a mysterious and knowing 
smile. 

“What is it, honey?” Gladys cried. “What happened?” 

Slowly, Rose lowered her eyes. 

“Well, look at her! You little . . .” Gladys exclaimed, 
cradling Rose in her arms. She had meant to take a 
joking tone,* but something in Rose’s manner made her 
nervous. 

“You did?” 

She was actually relieved when Rose burst into tears, 
and comforted her with rough affection. “Never mind. It 
isn’t much fun the first time, is it?” 

“Yes!” 

“What?” said Gladys, drawing back. “Then what are 
you crying for?” 

“I don’t know.” 

“ Tell me.” 

“Hal wanted to come back here,” Rose said, “and — you 
know . . .” 

“Here,” said Gladys, “in this room?” 



85 


xm The Centralist's Walk 


Rose nodded. 

"Suppose we might have come in.” 

"I guess we should have thought of that,” answered 
Rose softly, without interest. 

Gladys regarded her with growing perplexity anjl an- 
noyance. “I must say you don’t look very attractive.” 

"I know,” said Rose, sitting up. ‘Tm an awful mess. 
And my head aches. Do we have any aspirin’” 

“Yes,” Gladys said. 

She watched Rose limp into the bathroom. As she 
waited slumped on the bed, she felt big and ugly. She 
noticed specks of some Harvard man’s blood on her 
blouse. 

“I suppose you’ll he seeing each other all the time 
now.” 

“Not for a while! He’s going away to Bradford and 
then to Riverton, and then he’ll come back and we’ll get 
married.” 

A gentle gargling came from the bathroom. Gray 
morning light invaded the ravaged bedroom. Gladys got 
up heavily and looked for a cigarette. She could find 
only butts. 


Chapter XIII The Centralist's Walk 

It waj nine o’clock in the morning in Brad- 
ford, Massachusetts, now a manufacturing city, once the 
world’s greatest whaling port. A businesslike young man 
wearing a slanted hat trotted down the steps of the Ho- 
tel Leviathan. 



Part One 


86 


Hal Hingham walked briskly down Prospect Street. 
His eyes were clear and bright and glassy. So was his 
mind. His face was emptied of all expression. He would 
have resembled an amnesia victim, except that when 
people approached from the other direction he seemed 
to waken — as if in response to an electric beam — and he 
gave back the same signs of life they showed to him. 

He exchanged friendly glances with two members of 
the Bradford Junior Chamber of Commerce. One Jaycee 
asked: “Isn’t he one of our bunch 5 I could have sworn 
. . .” Meanwhile the object of their attention had be- 
come an entirely different person. He dragged himself 
exhaustedly past a knocked-out garage mechanic who 
was shambling home after the night shift. A few seconds 
later he was whistling along with a sailor. He blessed 
somebody in a turned-around collar. A vacuous house- 
maid drew a blank. At nine thirty he reached the comer 
of Pike and Scupper streets, the center of Bradford, and 
started on his tour of the town. 

Toward the third hour someone whom Hal didn’t see 
began following him. He was a tall, thin boy of gradu- 
ate-student age. He needed a haircut. When he stood 
still, he looked like a weed that had grown up through 
a crack in the sidewalk. 

Hal came out ot a supermarket and waited for a* traffic 
light to change. A few yards away, t;he boy was regard- 
ing him furiously and scribbling things on a clip board. 
His brow was screwed into a tortured question mark To- 
gether the Centralist and his pursuer moved through 
the streets. The day wore on. They shopped through a 



87 


xiii The Centralist's Walk 


department store. The face peered after Hal, even into 
the men’s room. Later the thin hand grasped a strap at 
the other end of the trolley he was riding, while its 
owner performed gymnastics to hide the hieroglyphics 
he entered on some kind of record sheet. 

Hal sensed the recurring shadow following him. He 
heard a cough behind him. He saw the boy lurking be- 
hind a barber’s pole, in frantic secrecy trying to impress 
notes on a flapping sheet of paper. Turning quickly, he 
approached the person who was shadowing him. The 
boy drew away, startled and confused. 

The weedy boy carried a cup of coffee in one hand 
and his clip board in the other. He pressed a thickness 
of question-and-answer forms to his heart. The top sheet 
bore the legend slotton survey. He had forgotten to re- 
move a pencil from behind his ear. His necktie hung 
askew and his seersucker jacket was stained across the 
shoulders. Something worried him. He frowned at the 
maze of diners in the middle of the restaurant. Keeping 
his eye on this area, he went over to a table near the 
wall. 

“Hi, Randy!” 

The man at the table also had a clip board. He was 
gloomily eating a doughnut and didn’t look up to see 
who hjd addressed him. 

“Time out for tea , eh?” 

The man raised his head, which was dark and heavy, 
and said: “Hello, Duncan. No, as a matter of fact I’m 
having coffee.” 

“Oh, please don’t make a fool of me,” the boy ap- 



Part One M 

pealed. “Listen, there’s something I’ve got to talk to you 
about. It’s happening right now, but don’t look!” 

He stood up and gazed across the cafeteria. 

“What the hell is wrong with you, Duncan?” 

“It’s okay. He’s still there, with his back to us. Randy, 
there’s a strange one walking the streets today. He’s 
like a wild atom.” 

The dark man sighed and lit a cigarette. 

Duncan thrust his shining eyes, nose, and forehead 
across the table. “You know what Dr. Slotton wants us 
to do, beginning next week. Follow one person,” he 
whispered. “For horizontal observation, you know, in 
addition to the sampling. Well, I thought I’d get in some 
practice. So I tried it out today. Look. See that fellow 
over there, in the middle of them all? The one with the 
slanted hat?” 

“Uh.” 

“He’s the one I picked out to follow. He looked sort 
®f typical, as you can see.” 

“I don’t see him.” 

“That’s just it!” said the boy. “He’d be right in front of 
me, and then he’d vanish. I kept losing him. The thing 
is, he’s more there than anyone else, and that’s why you 
don’t notice him.” 

His colleague cursed as he accidentally dropped his 
cigarette into his coffee cup. “What are you •talking 
about?” he said in a disgusted tone v 

“I’m worried about this fellow. I logged his routine, 
but he doesn’t have any routine.” 

“That’s his affair, I would think.” 

“Sure. Of course, it’s ours too — if the Slotton Survey is 



89 


xiii The Centralists Walk 


following him. But this guy who doesn’t seem to be go- 
ing anywhere sort of imitates the other people on the 
street. Secretly, one by one, as they come along. Nobody 
notices it. He just — ■” 

“A nut, obviously.” 

“No, he isn’t. For instance, he pleases everybody. But 
they don’t know it. They unconsciously smile and hang 
around him in patterns as he walks. Randy, 1 think he’s 
from some rival outfit.” 

“Could be.” 

“The reason i think so . . .” The boy shivered. “He 
caught me finally. He turned around and asked me my 
occupation.” 

His gloomy listener was amused. “Well, what did you 
tell him?” 

“I didn’t — I couldn’t.” Duncan blushed. “I told him it 
was confidential.” 

“Hah, hah, hah!” roared the dark man. “Hah, hah, hah, 
hah, hah!” 

“All right,” said the boy. He sipped at his coffee. In 
spite of his humiliation, he didn’t forget to make sure 
that the slanted hat was still in the cafeteria. “You laugh, 
but I believe in Dr. Slotton. I believe in Science. I be- 
.lieve in the Complete Predictability of mankind. What’s 
a human being? From birth to death, he’s a constantly 
changing set of statistics with arms and legs — ” 

“JBull, Duncan.” 

“You can never escape being a statistic, even in the 
most private moments. Even, we know, in the act of 
love. Take a person. Who is that walking down the 
street? You say Smith. I say he’s rural to urban, occa- 



Part One 


90 


sional glass of beer, believes in vitamins, woman’s place 
is in the home, and so on, until after we’ve criss-crossed 
him enough, Smith, as such, vanishes.” 

“Everybody’s vanishing on you today.” 

“L?ugh.” Duncan waved fyis arms at the ponderous 
face opposite him. “That’s the only way we’ll ever get to 
understand humanity.” 

He brooded. “I can’t get this fellow with the slanted 
hat out of my mind. If Dr. Slotton knows what he’s do- 
ing, this fellow has got to be using the wrong methods. 
The way he walks around, with those imitations nobody 
can see! Everywhere, for hours, in and out of buildings, 
in the stores, through the park. All he does is walk, and 
they don’t notice him especially, but they form patterns 
around him just the same. Walk, walk, walk, but no 
sampling at all. This is science? He’s like the Pied Piper 
or something. He’s figured this town out. I know he has, 
but I haven’t 'got valid proof. Unless I ask him. That’s it, 
I’ve got to ask him, sample him,” Duncan said weakly, 
“if I can get up the nerve.” 

“It’s your worry,” the other said, “but you better take 
my — 

“There!” exclaimed Duncan, pointing across the res- 
taurant. “He’s getting up to go, and look at them all! 
They’re all up, and he’s in the middle, of course.” 

“I don’t see anybody.” 

“I’m going to follow him some more. And when I get 
a chance — ■” Duncan ran for the change counter. 

Long shadows were falling on the waterfront. Hal 
would end his Walk here, where the city had its be- 



91 


ami The Centralist's Walk 


ginnings in the old whaling days. He passed between 
two warehouses and felt the boards of a pier springing 
under his feet. Small boats, dinghies, and a number of 
fishing-trawlers were slopping in the water. He woke 
slov^jy and mistily, as he had gone under, concentrating 
on bright things and sharp little sounds — the debris of 
life. Seagulls darted through the air. The water was rain- 
bowed with oil and filled with orange peel, chips, crates, 
innertubes, bottles, and hunks of cork. There was a 
rhythmic groaning of stretched and relaxed rope. The 
wind blew, and whips of spray flew over the pier. 

“Hi, hi!” A voice hailed him, and he saw the boy bent 
over like a question mark galloping out of the mists, 
with the pages of his clip board all tattered and flying 
like pennants. The pitiful and fanatic face confronted 
him; the scientific face, in which naivete and knowledge 
struggled to prove something, peered at him. 

“Pardon me!” 

“Shoot,” he said. 

“IVe got to ask you the questions.” 

“Sure,” Hal said. “No, I don’t mind. Got a job. Go to 
church. Oh, I’d say point five times a week. Coffee. 
What? Four, five cups a day. Yes, I do. No, I don’t. One 
pack. King-sized. Light. Long-playing. Rural to urban. 
The mayor? Moderately. Read fewer books. Like to stay 
home. TV, I guess. Everybody has a right to their opin- 
ion, if they don’t abuse it. Guilty. Yes, yes. Capital pun- 
ishment. How many times? How many times? With us, 
it’s two point three a week.” 

Hal moved off. A shout followed him. 

“My God!” 

D 



Part One 


92 


With desperate flourishes, the young scientist was tot- 
ing up the sqore. “I knew it. You gave me all the mean 
answers! Right down the line. Please, tell me who you 
work f6r!” he called in vain after the one in the slanted 
hat. “What’s your system? What are you doing in this 
town anyway?” 

Hal didn’t look back. Leaving the pollster in his windy 
solitude, he headed for the hotel to rest up for his inva- 
sion of the city in the morning. 


Chapter XIV The Rape of Bradford 

Hal moved along with the crowds on 
Scupper Street. It was a mild morning, dry and bright. A 
formation of little woolly clouds had spread over the 
city. They were like lambs in the sky. AH the people too 
reminded him of lambs, jostling and baa-ing in their con- 
crete pasture. Strange that he had always thought of 
people as wild animals. Now he smiled at their help- 
lessness. He already had two signed contracts in his 
pocket. 

George Mack, the coal-dealer, had suddenly felt the 
need for a twenty-thousand-dollar annuity. Mack was 
talkative. He had insisted on telling Hal all about a 
crazy friend of his in Riverton, and made him promise 
to visit this man. But then he became aware of the wide- 
mouthed personality, the replica of himself being of- 
fered across the desk, and went limp with satisfaction. 
Similarly, the druggist with the long name wanted to 
apologize for ‘being unable to take out more than ten 



93 


nv The Rape of Bradford 

thousand straight life. “When business gets better, I'll 
call you, Hal,” he promised. Actual selling-time for both 
these prospects had been less than twenty minutes. 

In Boston he had wondered whether Centralism might 
pa£ off only in happiness, and not in money. The possi- 
bility had worried him so that he had hardly dared think 
about it. Now it was clear that there were no limits to 
his power. Old Modesto’s magic formula also worked in 
terms of cash. He stepped back into a doorway, apprais- 
ing the passers-by. ‘At the rate I’m going,’ he thought, 
‘in one day 1 «.ould make a fortune in commissions.’ 

The idea filled him with uneasy excitement. It was a 
deliberate violation of the work centrally command- 
ment, but he could do it. He had the power to make 
enough money today $o that he would never have to 
worry again. Lie around, go to Florida . . . He put it 
away from him. Ambition was the enemy. He went 
back into the crowd and resumed his walk. But now 
among all the round eyes his were like slits. One easy 
mark after another passed by. He felt his selling poten- 
tial rise with each prospect. Some day he might lose this 
magic. Why not go after them now? 

He looked at the people on the sidewalk. They had 
become his brothers and sisters But they might change 
without warning. ‘These gentle feces used to sneer at 
me,’ he remembered. People vytre treacherous. If a man 
lost his strength, they turned on him and laughed at him, 
unless he had a reserve of honor in the bank. 

Before he knew it h^ walked up to a carpenter in 
front of a cigar store, ayJd backed him into a comer. Was 
his life built on a soli$ foundation? In seconds he piled 



Part One 


94 


a houseful of arguments around this one so that he 
couldn’t escape. His hands shaped the cases and stories 
of the sale. He hammered his points home, sawed with 
his arms, and framed the little truths in their proper 
places, until the bewildered man stood looking at the 
four walls of his life, saying: “Gee, I never thought of it 
that way,” and slowly drew out his fountain pen. 

He looked around for another prospect, and another. 
He wanted to insure them all against everything, seize 
his chance — in a few hours make up a lifetime of failure! 
First he decided to go back to the hotel and fill his suit- 
case with policies. He hurried there. His pale, amiable 
face attracted no attention. They didn’t know him, or 
what he could do. 

At first he made appointments, after a fashion. He 
went to offices at random and asked to see the boss. No 
receptionist turned him away. Nor did the surprised and 
irritated men who reluctantly granted him what they 
supposed would be a minute or two. He sold them what- 
ever policies he liked, regardless of their needs, and got 
up smiling and left while the ink was drying on their 
signatures. They followed him out of their offices, asking 
to see him, again. The receptionists gazed after him as 
he disappeared into the elevators. 

But it was too slow. success was taking him four 
or five minutes. He began V ca ^ on .ground-floor store- 
keepers. He sold his policies such speed that their 
faces became a blur. He went' down the block, in and 
out of one store after another, longing his personality 
so quickly that for stretches at a he forgot who he 



95 


ziv The Rape of Bradford 

was and what he was trying to prove. It didn’t matter. 
He was free at last. He had the wild and curious sensa- 
tion of being in flight, of having cut loose from human- 
ity. He had become a process in the shape of a man, and 
this was the marvelously logical conclusion of his kind of 
life. 

Soon, even more logically, he was buttonholing his 
prospects on the street. His tempo increased. His person- 
ality changes came faster and faster until it seemed that 
he was putting on a street charade of all humanity. At 
the coma ox Pike and Bond streets he started running 
from one person to another. He no longer bothered with 
persuasion. He was hawking his policies like football 
programs. He w»s • -braining a signature every ninety 
seconds. By five o’clock it was a frenzy, a perfect orgy of 
selling in which, finally, he did not speak at all but had 
only to make a convulsive gesture and the people ac- 
cepted the contracts he thrust at them. 

This went on through the five-o’clock rush hour into 
the early hours of darkness, until all his policy forms 
were exhausted. Then, carrying his loaded suitcase, he 
staggered off to the park. He sat down on a bench and 
put his head in his hands. 

He woke up. Somebody was poking him, and a voice 
said: “Looks like he slept here all night.” The soft 
weight in his ribs was a broom. He saw the little white 
cart, the street-cleaner, and then the policeman. The 
two men were gazing down at him sympathetically. 

“Move over, laddy, all I want is that paper under you 
there,” die street-cleaner said. 



Part One 


96 


He was lying on an old newspaper in the park. He 
jumped to his feet. It was still rather dark, and -the 
early-morning , haze was like a veil before his eyes. The 
policeman’s soft red Irish face seemed kind, as did the 
peaked countenance of tfye whitewing. 

“Thank you, my boy,” said the street-cleaner, flourish 
ing a sort of pike, and he^speared the paper and dropped 
it in his portable trash can. 

“What am I doing here?” Hal asked. In the distance, 
beyond the gurgling fountain, he saw the Leviathan Ho- 
tel, where he should have spent the night. 

“Don’t ask us said the policeman, “suppose you tell 
us,” and the street-cleaner nodded. As it grew lighter, 
furtive shapes darted from the park in all directions. 

“I don’t know. ... I had a suitcase.” 

“Behind you, lad.” 

“Yes, here.” He knelt down and showed them. “Life- 
insurance policies. I’m a salesman.” 

“And a very* good one too,” remarked the policeman, 
hashing his light on the papers, and pushing them with his 
nightstick. “Every blasted one is filled out.” 

A bell crashed six times, and the park was quiet again 
except for the rushing of water in the fountain. He re- 
mained on his knees by the suitcase, staring at its con- 
tents. The two public servants stood against the wet 
black grass and streaked sky, and watched him* They 
wanted to help him, but there was qo help. The dawn 
made a negative of his life and showed him what he had 
done. The signed policies seemed to him a heap of ashes 
in the suitcase. He thought: ‘For that, I’ve exchanged 



97 xiv The Rape of Bradford 

my life.' He didn’t even feel sorry or afraid. Everything 
was hopeless, and he felt remote from his crime. 

“I broke the law,” he said. 

“What’s this, now?” laughed the policeman. “The 
city wouldn’t enforce the statute against a nice fellow 
like^ou.” 

He thanked them. They were nice little men who had 
nothing to do with him. They were talking about him as 
if he weren’t there. 

“The boy’s a little sick in the head!” the street- 
cleaner was whispering. “You better take him in to the 
Psycho ward. But use tact on him, Jimmy. Don’t hurt his 
feelings.” 

“I can see that you are no ordinary bum, but my 
friend thinks you night be needing a doctor. Will you 
come along 5 ” 

He would be glad to. He walked beside the policeman 
and the whitewing, who carried the suitcase on his cart. 
“I’ll tell you what,” said the policeman. “Give me a few 
dollars, and I’ll send this bag of yours to your company 
by parcel post. In your condition at present, you might 
lose it all.” 

“All right,” he said. A transparent wall separated him 
from the world. He could reach and speak through it, 
but not get through it, nor care about anyone on the 
other s»de. Did they care for him? 

“Sure they do.” The doctor smiled. “Look. Physically, 
you’re in fine shape. You’ve had a bit of a breakdown 
from overwork, that’s all. It’s nothing to be afraid of. 



Part One 


98 


The veil or wall you keep mentioning is absolutely in 
your imagination. Just don’t think about it. The mind 
controls the body — you know that, don’t you?” 

“Yes, sir.” He sensed a game, and that this man was 
off somewhere playing it, with himself. 

“Now what is this so-called crime that worries you?” 

“I broke the law.” s 

“Nonsense. Forget that, now. You’re the kind of guy 
who needs to be with people. Be more with people. 
Don’t stay alone and brood. When you get this feeling 
again, go out and talk to somebody. Your problem is to 
Stay happy.” 

“But I am—” 

“Fine. You’ll be all right.” 

He wrote to Dr. Modesto, without a heading: “i have 
violated work centrally,” and put down his return ad- 
dress as the Circle Hotel in Boston. He then dashed off 
another message. It was a love-letter to his fiancee. Dear 
Rose. Rose? One’s fiancde was a thin little girl standing 
beside an X-ray machine, waiting for him. I have not 
•written before because l have been so busy making a 
go. At any rate, he wasn’t suffering any pain. He would 
try to go along, as if nothing had happened in Bradford. 
Of things here. But why didn’t he care about anyone? 
How are you, dear? He got along with peoples effort- 
lessly, but they didn’t count. I have rnissed you. His pen 
scratched across the hotel stationery as he wrote the 
words of love. I think of you a lot, and wish you could 
be here. However, it will not be so long, so don't worry. 
I have made a success in Bradford, and am going on to 



99 xv Rewards of Faith 

Riyerton, as planned. Sometimes I dream of the cottage, 
and imagine you behind the picket fence. I mean, it 
could happen. 

He inserted much in front of love. 


Chapter XV Rewards of Faith 

“Isn’t there a song called ‘Rose in Bloom?’ ” 
said Mr. Brewster. “I’m positive I’ve heard it.” 

“What?” said Rose, eying the instrument panel. “Now, 
will you please not move.” 

“You are a very unresponsive young lady,” sighed the 
patient, turning his melancholy eyes on her. He lay 
naked on the X-ray (able except for a loin cloth which 
appeared to fit his round body like a diaper. 

“I don’t mean to be, Mr. Brewster, but — ” 

“And must it still be ‘Mr. Brewster’? You couldn’t call 
me ‘Jack’?” 

“No, I don’t think so. After all, you’re a patient, and 
you’re a college teacher. I’m not your type anyway.” 

“Good lord, Rose! Can you honestly believe after 
we’ve chatted here so many times that I’m in some way 
different — particularly from one who is a specialist in 
her own right?” 

“Ev$n if you weren’t different, you’re married,” she 
told him, feeling ashamed and angry. “Please don’t talk. 
I’m going to take the picture.” 

“Happily married! What a child you are!” the patient 
whispered. 

She had hurt him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Brewster.” He smiled 



Part One 


100 


weakly as her fingertips brushed his shoulder. She low- 
ered the crane over his abdomen. Once more at the panel, 
she called out: “Don’t breathe!” There was a long hum 
and a click. “Good! That was just right. You can get 
dressed now.” 

€ 

He lay still for a moment before getting up. He walked 
slowly to the chair wh^re his clothes were folded. His 
deliberation annoyed Rose. Why couldn’t he rush for his 
trousere like the others? Worse, he reached for his pipe 
instead of his trousers. Now he stood naked except for 
his peculiar underwear and the pipe in his mouth, look- 
ing at her quizzically. 

“How old would you say I was?” he asked. 

“Oh,” said Rose, turning away. “Fifty, I should think.” 

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am fifty,” Mr. Brewster 
admitted with a sudden, loud laugh. “But come on, now, 
that’s not so old, is it?” 

“I guess not,” Rose answered, still not wanting to look 
at him, but she smiled as she went into the darkroom and 
called back: “Don’t they say you’re as old as you feel 5 ” 

“Exactly!” cried the almost naked pipe-smoker. “And 
I feel thirty-five. You know, I sincerely fail to understand 
why I am not thirty-five, for all practical purposes.” 

In the darkroom Rose lit a cigarette. She lifted Mr. 
Brewster’s first plate out of the solution and replaced it 
with the picture of his large intestine. She studjfd the 
shadow of the right kidney. It was a good film. Dr. War- 
ren would be pleased. She moved into the deepest black 
shadow and made her cigarette glow. The smoke drifted 
across the bar of dull blue fluorescent light that faintly 
illuminated the sink. 



101 xv Rewards of Faith 

On the other side of the partition, Mr. Brewster said: 
“I seem to remember that you have a boy friend.” 

“Yes,” she answered miserably. “He’s been away.” She 
had a boy friend who had not thought enough of her to 
send a postcard. 

♦“Well, that’s fine. You should But I wonder if he 
would object to your having another — acquaintance, for 
cocktails and dinner occasionally, say, at the Copley 
Plaza, and then an evening at Symphony Hall, or if you 
prefer lighter things — ” Mr. Brewster’s laughter pene- 
trated her dark closet — “some kind of vaudeville show.” 

She crushed out her cigarette. His soft voice depressed 
her, yet undoubtedly he would be kind. She recalled a 
saying that mature men appreciated you more. 

He was waiting for her with his hat in his hand, a 
plump, not-so-old figure in seersucker. “Well, good-by 
until next time.” He smiled. 

“Mr. Brewster!” Rose seized his hand. “I wish I could. 
The thing is, even if he hasn’t written, he will any day, 
and I wouldn’t feel right — I guess I’m the old-fashioned 
type.” 

He touched her cheek. “Rose, your kind is always in 
fashion, thank God. Now, you say you’ve received no 
word from him lately? Never mind. His letter will come. 
Young men can be thoughtless. You have to expect that. 
As the years go by, they gradually learn tenderness. 
Meanwhile, until things are all right again, may I not 
offer you — ” Mr. Brewster bowed good-humoredly — 
“the dubious pleasure of having dinner with me tonight?” 

‘No,’ thought Rose. ‘I can’t. It’s the first step down.’ 
She found herself reacting to the pressure of his fingers. 



Part One 


102 


“Don’t answer now if you don’t want to,” he said. “I 
have it. You go home and think about the idea. I’ll phone 
you at seven., Let’s make up a code. When you answer my 
call, if you’d like an evening of talk and music, say: ‘Yes, 
Jack.’ If not, well, I suppose — ” he made a charming ges- 
ture — “it will have to be ‘Mr. Brewster.’ Au revoir, Rose.” 

“Au — good-by,” she s stammered, as the door closed 
softly between them. 

She went home and found Hal’s letter in the mailbox, 
and read it several times before going upstairs. It didn’t 
matter that the message was short. At least he was not 
afraid to put his love in writing. She climbed the stairs 
with a feeling of relief. 

There was, she thought, something sad about the let- 
ter. The lifeless handwriting in pale blue ink seemed that 
of a stranger patiently fulfilling his obligations. This 
didn’t trouble her. She had been doing a lot of thinking 
since he had gone, and realized that his air of lifelessness 
was what appealed to her. He was not an animal like the 
others. Even on their one romantic night, he had not 
forced his desire on her in an obsessed or ugly way. 
Rather he had slipped in with a muttered apology, as if 
to say: “Is this place taken?” and consummated their 
engagement courteously, without fuss. 

In the bedroom Gladys’s clothes had been fhyig into 
every comer. She had evidently finished packing for her 
trip to Maine, where she was to jom Heffeman for a 
week. The football-player was working in a sawmill oper- 
ated by Bay State coach Ed Notsik, to toughen himself 
for the fall campaign. 



103 


xv Rewards of Faith 

Gladys had been entertaining. The sink was filled with 
coffee cups and glasses containing wet cigarette butts. 
Rose sighed and began to clean up. While rinsing the 
dishes, she considered again the strange race of males that 
women had to deal with. Tb r y were all operators — all, 
sooner or later, after one thing. Some, like Johnny Hef- 
leman, came after you stamping and knocking things 
over. Soft little brutes, Mr. Brewster’s kind, sneaked in 
with sympathy. Whatever kind they were, they remained 
the privileged characters to be placated, cajoled, some- 
how held off. 

The downstairs door slammed in a way that announced 
Gladys’s arrival. There was a good deal of scraping on 
the staircase, and the front door fiew open, admitting 
Gladys. Behind her came a wobbling tower of football 
equipment carried by a small, disappointed man with a 
sharp face. 

“Put it here. Swan,” said Gladys. “No, wait. In the 
other room!” 

It was too late. The tower swayed and fell over. Cleats, 
shoulder pads, a helmet and nose guard tumbled to the 
floor. 

“You might have waited.” 

“How could I help it? You change your mind at the 
last moment.” 

Gladys took a load into the bedroom, explaining to 
Rose: “Johnny needs it. They’re going to practice up 
there.” 

“Who’s that?” asked Rose, with a giggle. 

“Oh, Swan — my roommate, Rose. Rose — Swan.” 

“I’m pleased to meet you,” said Swan. “Look, Gladys. 



Part One 


104 


I should be going now. Whether you appreciate it or not, 
I’ve got work tb do.” 

“Well, we» aren’t chaining you, my dear boy.” 

Swan scowled and lit a cigarette. “I assumed that you 
might want to say good-by to me,” he said. 

“All right, then, good-by!” called Gladys from the 
other room. “Thanks fQr your ass-istance.” 

Swan stood up furiously and marched from the room. 
At the door he hesitated, and said loudly: “You might 
have the kindness to let me know when you get back!” 

The phone rang, and Rose answered it. 

“Remember our code,” said a melodious voice. 

“What?” 

“Our code, my dear. Who am I?” 

“Oh,” said Rose. “Mr. Brewster.” 

There was a silence, and then the voice at the other 
end said: “Well, really. Are you sure it isn’t Jack?” 

“No, no, Mr. Brewster.” She wanted to laugh, and yet 
she pitied him. 

“It does seem to me — I’ve already bought tickets — I’m 
entitled . . .” She laid the receiver gently on the table. 
The voice buzzed on until finally the hornet died. 

When Gladys asked who it was, she laughed. “That 
pest!” 

The trustees and alumni of the Browning & Snow 
School of Business Administration applauded. Fred Purdy 
inclined his head toward various parts of the hall. His 
cheeks were darkly flushed. Like everyone else in the 
room, he was sweating. His linen coat had wilted. His 
pants were soggy and splashed with beer. What did that 



105 


xv Rewards of Faith 

matter? More beer! He reached for his stein and took a 
long swig. Most of his listeners did the same, and a clatter 
of crockery hit the tables. 

“Name your own moral!” Fred Purdy said. “All I 
know is, my rabbit turned into a tiger. Mind you, we 
aren’t claiming any miracles yet. The boy is undisciplined. 
We’ll have to throw out most of those Bradford con- 
tracts. Even so, he’s set a record — and remember, he’s 
just starting.” 

He looked around the hall and saw that they were w r ell 
pleased with him. Now for the cliche that would put 
them at rest. 

“Why did his conversion take place 5 In my opinion, 
Hingham found belief in his job. . . 

He elaborated on > his untruth for several minutes more, 
and sat down, bowing to their thunderous appreciation. 
But he would not bow to the romance he had just in- 
vented. He had not, of course, filled Hingham with faith. 
In a fit of irritation, he had tried to knock the last bit of 
“belief’ out of him. What troubled Purdy was that he 
might actually have inspired Hingham without meaning 
to. 

He shrugged off their glad hands and went out on the 
fire escape for a smoke. “Unbelief i» the first step toward 
freedom,” he said to himself. He had always meant this 
as an angry joke. 

“Purdy! Purdy!” they were calling. “Where’s Fred 
Purdy?” 

He tossed away his smoke and returned to the world 
of beer and good fellowship. 




Part Two 


Chapter XVI The Athletic Crowd 

It was a cool blue Fourth of July morning 
in Riverton. People were hurrying through the streets in 
sports costumes, carrying picnic lunches, tennis rackets, 
beach umbrellas, and guitars. On every street one heard 
firecrackers. A fife-and-drum corps was marching some- 
where. Through this atmosphere of aggressive gaiety and 
good health ran the dogged young athlete Hal Hingham. 
He was dressed in flannels and a white sports shirt, and he 
wore white sneakers. In one hand he carried a tennis 
racket, in the other a canvas bag. The bag contained a 
white sweater, some tennis balls, gauze, tape, and iodine. 

He ran as fast as he could, occasionally looking back 
over his shoulder, as if he hoped to run out from under 
his sin. In this healthy town he would be an athlete. If 
he hid among the clean young people of Riverton, per- 
haps what he had done in Bradford would not catch up 
with him. This was his plan. Yet he didn’t really care 
whether it worked — if only he could get back to life. He 
felt as if he were closed away from everybody. The air 
around him was like glass, and he felt like knocking on 
it, to let himself out, so that he could be with other 
people. He was a sunburned tennis-player without a part- 
ner. 

He hoped to find one, for he was on his way to the 
Riverton Olympic Club to disappear among the athletes. 
He was looking for George Mack’s old friend Tim Ash- 
burn. The Bradford coal-dealer had made a point of it. 



Part Two 


108 


"You’ll get a kick out of him,” he said. “Tim’s a funny 
guy. He’ll do anything for you if you make him feel 
young. He’stgot a youth complex.” 

Before selling the coal-dealer his annuity, Hal had 
listened to the story of Tjm Ashbum. 

Tim Ashbum decided on his forty-fifth birthday that 
he was not going to get any older. He meant this in abso- 
lute seriousness. By regular feats of prowess, like the boy 
who lifted the calf every day, he, Tim Ashbum, would 
prove to others and to his own body that he was de facto 
no older than he had been the week before. Systematically 
he went about remaining young. First, he surrounded 
himself with young people. Secondly, he made it his 
mission to beat young men, and young women, at their 
own games. “He’s had four wives.” Mack grinned. “Wore 
’em all out. Every girl he marries is younger than the 
last one.” 

Tim learned all the crazy new dances. He got himself 
on supervisory committees of the high-school proms — 
then showed up at the dances and out-jitterbugged every- 
body. He refused to let his wives have children, for fe.gr . 
of aging unconsciously as the kids grew up around him. 
And always he competed with young men. As president 
of the Whitestone Mill, where most of them worked, he 
had them at his genial mercy. He was able to fqfce them 
into competition, beat them year after year, and so prove 
once more and again that Tim Ashbum had made time 
stand still. 

He made his eternal youth a matter of record. He did 



109 


zvi The Athletic Crowd 


this by founding the Riverton Olympic Club. Twice a 
year the Club held an “Olympic Games.” And every year, 
winter and summer, Tim Ashbum somehow whipped 
the younger generation. 

“The Fourth of July is whjrn they have their summer 
gagies,” Mack said. “If you vant to do business with 
Tim, get in on one of the events and lose to him.” 

After Bradford, business was the last thing he wanted 
to do. It would be months before he could try to sell any 
more insurance. Perhaps never, he thought. 

Hal trotted onto the grounds of the Riverton Olympic 
Club. Young men and girl athletes were rambling across 
the turf, high-jumping, throwing the discus, putting the 
shot, and racing down the cinder track. Tanned boys of 
violent beauty lifted bar bells. Others climbed into pyra- 
mids. Across the field bronzed figures could be seen 
plying canoes on a small lake. 

Hal went into the clubhouse. He arrived in rime to 
hear a worried-looking boy shout over the loudspeaker 
system: 

“Winner of the raft-paddle is — mr. ashburn!” 

This announcement resounded from amplifiers all over 
the field. A man walked past Hal and fiung himself pant- 
ing into a deck chair. He gazed with a taut smile at the 
scorebo^d, watching the boy chalk up a “io” in the 
space where the “Raft-Paddle” and “Ashbum” columns 
intersected. He mopped his crew-cut gray hair. There 
were no lines in his face, but the skin was drawn right 
over his cheekbones. He appeared masked and ageless, 



Part Two 


110 


with only the bright and rather unpleasant eyes alive, 
ironically, with the desperation of age. He nodded to 
Hal, who introduced himself. 

“A friend of George’s, eh? I see you’re dressed up to 
exercise,” Tim Ashbum said. 

Hal felt under pressure, and he understood what this 
man wanted. Tim Ashbum had to put him down, be- 
cause he was young and held a tennis racket in his hand. 
It was nothing personal, but a matter of his host’s sur- 
vival. As Ashburn looked him over, with the challenging 
and unpleasant smile, he felt that he was being competi- 
tively searched and probed for weak points. What a 
pleasure it would be to lose to such a nun! Hal imagined 
how much Ashburn would like him after beating him. 
(“Well, boy, you were good, but not quire good enough.” 
— “Yes, sir. I did mv best.” — “No disgrace in that.”) 
Again he experienced ibi 'inc, warm Centralists feeling 
— the comfort of being a second-rater. He could hardly 
wait to fling Himself in happy defeat before his obsessed 
opponent. 

“So tennis is your game. Are you any good?” Tim 
Ashbum asked. 

“Well, I can give you a good game, I think.” 

“Winner of the discus-throw — big dick trent!” cried 
the scoreboard boy in a frightened tone, as Tim Ashbum 
glanced darkly at the late results. 

“Of course, the entries are closed,” he said to Hal. 
“And you can’t be a member, unless I make you one. 
Besides, only one man has dared to challenge me in 
tennis. Do you really think you’d have a chance, Hing- 
ham?” 



Ill 


xvi The Athletic Crowd 


“I believe I could give you a close battle, Mr. Ashbum.” 

The scoreboard boy turned his back, and announced 
that Big Dick Trent had won the shotput and the ham- 
mer-throw. 

Tim Ashbum got slowly to his feet. “Maybe we can 
get, you in,” he said. “Come on, boy. I’ll show you 
around. I’ve still got time before my next event.” As they 
went out the door, he laughed and pushed Hal roughly 
on the shoulder. 

They strolled among the athletes, and Hal noticed that 
everywhere they went a way was parted for them, and 
they were alone. The young people bowed with uneasy 
friendliness to the savagely smiling man who kept young 
by beating them, and retreated from him. They seemed 
cowed by his presence. But behind his back some of the 
young men regarded Tim Ashburn sullenly, and the 
girls laughed at him. The founder of the Riverton Olym- 
pic Club knew nothing of this. He continued to walk 
proudly in the bright light of noon with his head held 
high, so that no one could say that his neck was wrinkled. 

“Winner of the girls’ hundred-yard dash — joan vigoro. 
Time: twelve seconds flat!” 

“That’s good time,” said Hal. 

“Too good. Look at her.” Tim Ashbum nodded 
toward a tall, limber girl with a darkly attractive, un- 
happy face. She was being clapped on the back by en- 
thusiastic muscular boys, who immediately turned away 
from her and gave their attention to the girls who had 
lost the race. Hal felt sorry for her, although, of course, 
he agreed with the fellows that a girl athlete shouldn’t 
expect any attention. Joan Vigoro picked up her sweater. 



Part Two 


112 


She went off by herself and sat disconsolately on a pile 
of boards. 

“She’s too good for a girl. I mean twelve seconds flat,” 
said Tim Ashbum. “/ only run the hundred in eleven 
flat Now take my wife — Jjpr best time is twelve eight” 

Hal nodded. “That’s more like it.” 

“Everybody out for the rope-skipping!” 

“Well, parm me now, I’m going to win my specialty,” 
said Tim Ashbum. “Why don’t you run over and talk 
to Joan? She needs a good man. So long, pal, I mean 
Hal.” He winked, and the raillery of his enforced youth 
seemed even more horribly unnatural as he hustled off to 
join the boys. 


“Miss Vigoro,” said Hal, “congratulations,” and he 
didn’t know what to say when she blushed and smiled at 
him. The show of gratitude made her prettier. Hal 
thought how popular she might become if only she would 
not run so fast. But in a moment she was the lonely and 
unwanted girl again. Lack of confidence made her awk- 
ward. As she stood before him, hot and disheveled from 
her victory, she couldn’t think of anything feminine to 
do, and coughed with adolescent gruffness, and looked 
away, twirling her sweater. 

“Why are you so sad? Why do you stay by yourself?” 
he asked. 

Joan looked at him. “Because I do my best!” she ex- 
claimed bitterly. “That’s why they leave me alone. I 
don’t care. I’ll run as fast as I can, whatever they think. 
It’s the only way I can be myself.” 



113 


xvi The Athletic Crowd 


She was, of course, making a terrible mistake. 

“Oh yes,” Joan went on. “The fellows like to play 
games with me, but they go home with the other girls. 
Why? Is there some law of nature that I can’t be my- 
self with a man?” 

Hjil tried to explain. “You could take it a little 
easy. . . .” 

“Am I attractive?” 

“Yes, but a lot of fellows, you know, they like to relax 
with a girl, and not — ” 

“You’re just like the others!” cried Joan Vigoro. 
“There musr be a man somewhere who . . . When I run, 
I run! When I jump, I jump as high as I can. All the 
fellows can beat me anyway. Why don’t they let me 
practice with their, anti then take me out? I want a man 
— like Big Dick. I hope he beats the old man today — but 
why does a guy like that hang around Doris Michaels? 
Look at her over there, with those fellows. She came in 
last. And now I’m all alone in the girls’ high jump — ” 

“Girls’ high jump,” a bored voice announced. “Can- 
celed!” 

Joan explained: “That’s the new rule. If nobody will 
compete against you, you don’t get the points — not even 
by default. The old man fixed it so — ” 

“Winner of the rope-skipping is — mr. ashburn!” 

“I don’t care any more!” said Joan, and Hal realized 
that she was crying. “I’m going to shame them all. Do 
you know how? I’ll shame myself — I’ve already fixed it!” 

A small brown knot-headed youth approached Hal. 
“I’m Fred Watt,” he said. “The old — Mr. Ashburn wants 
to see you.” 



Part Two 114 

“Please,” Hal said to Joan. “Take it easy now. I’ll see 
you later.” 

“I’ll tell ypu at the party,” she promised. “I’ll tell them 
all.” 


“I’m not very strong yet. Not like Big Dick,” said 
Fred Watt. “But I cap bend a coke cap between my 
thumb and forefinger. Can you?” He produced one. 

Hal said he had to save his strength for tennis. Watt 
glanced at him curiously: “That’s funny. I thought Hank 
Watson — ” He stopped and breathed: “Look at him!” 
He was gazing rapturously at a lazy blond giant poised 
for a javelin throw. 

“Big Dick Trent?” Hal inquired. 

“Yeah.” 

Pythons seemed to coil and uncoil beneath Big Dick’s 
polished skin. He threw the javelin and it disappeared, 
amid a murmur from the girl athletes. 

Hal heard. a familiar voice, and saw Thn Ashbum 
horseshoe-pitching. He was talking what at first seemed 
to be nonsense to a comely girl spectator, making compli- 
cated wind-ups and tossing a shoe, shouting back over 
his shoulder, pitching another. “See that, honey!” he 
shouted. “That’s the one. Oop! Just missed, almost a 
leaner. Look! Look at me, now! I’m going to ring the 
next one for sure!” 

Hal learned that the girl was Tim’s new wife, and the 
reason for the uproar he was creating became clear. Tim 
was watching her watch Big Dick Trent, and conse- 
quently missing his shots. 

“Hey, honey! We’re sixteen all. Look, now. Are you 



115 


zvi The Athletic Crowd 


with me? Got to make it. Got to make a ringer!” His 
shouts were in vain. Big Dick Trent had come sauntering 
by, and all the girls, including his own wife, were turn- 
ing to the young god like so many flowers. 

With a groan, Tim Ashburn let fly his horseshoe. The 
crucial toss was wide and short, bur it landed on the rim, 
and then miraculously leaped and rolled erratically to the 
stake and fell over for a ringer, while the amazed victor 
danced and tore at his aged crew-cut in a frenzy of joy, 
repeating: “Yes! Yes!” and two officials, one from the 
horseshoe pit and the other from the cluster of javelin- 
throwers, dashed for the clubhouse. 

“Winner of the javelin-throw — dick trent!” 

“Winner of the horseshoe-pitching is — mr. ashburn!” 

There was a pause. A noise of embarrassment came 
over the public-address system: “The points are — leaders, 
Trent, forty-six, er, Ashburn, forty-four, but there will 
be a — delay,” the voice concluded, and. a painful silence 
ensued. 

Still breathing in gasps, but triumphant, Tim Ashburn 
assured his wife: “Don’t think anything of it, honey. Re- 
member I have the tennis, with Hank Watson. What are 
you laughing at?” 

“Isn’t that the little one I beat 6-1 last month?” 

“Perhaps so, but he’s a man and has a right to chal- 
lenge me.” 

All eyes tume<j toward a runner arriving from the 
clubhouse. It was Fred Watt. 

“Hank Watson quit!” he yelled. “He won’t play ten- 
nis! No point for tennis! The new champion is Big Dick 
Trent!” 



Part Two 


11 < 


If he expected pandemonium, he was disappointed. The 
members of the Riverton Olympic Club backed away in 
silence, leaving the premature revolutionist alone to face 
Tim Ashbum. Fred Watt’s eyes rolled wildly, but the 
founder of the Olympic Club paid no attention to him. 

“Stay here with Eleanor!” Tim Ashbum whispered to 
Hal, indicating his wife v and strode away in the direction 
of the clubhouse, followed at a distance by the mob of 
athletes he had held in subjection for so long. 

Hal and Eleanor Ashburn looked at each other. 

“Somebody pulled a double-cross," she said medita- 
tively, “and somebody’s losing his grip.” 

Hal felt a plucking at his elbow, and a voice asked: 
“You wanna wrestle?” 

He turned to find a small ox of a man eying him for- 
lornly. This one’s muscles looked like so many motion- 
less boulders. He seemed in danger of splitting his skin 
whenever he moved. 

“No, he can’t wrestle. He’s our boy. He’s going to play 
tennis,” said Eleanor Ashbum, taking Hal’s arm. 

“Gee, Mrs. Ashbum . . .” 

“Lumpy, you’re just too strong for your own good,” 
she laughed. 

The would-be wrestler blinked under his low hairline. 
“Aw, there’s no competition for a guy,” he said finally. 
“I ain’t going to hang around here. I’m going home prob- 
ably.” 

He walked away. Eleanor Ashbum and Hal started 
toward the clubhouse, where the crowd of athletes 
waited. She explained that he had been challenged by 
Lumpy Modoc, the strongest man, possibly excepting 



117 


xvi The Athletic Crowd 


Big Dick, in the city. As a youth he had been sensitive 
about his five feet five inches, and built himself into an 
impossible physical specimen. He had taken every lesson 
in jiujitsu, trained for years with a Japanese until he could 
even beat his instructor. In a|l these years Lumpy had 
nev^r had a chance to use jiujitsu on anyone, because all 
men were polite to him. He was desperate to wrestle, but 
fated never to have a chance. 

“Why doesn’t Big Dick wrestle with him?” Hal asked. 

“And spoil that beautiful body! No one could expect 
him to do anything like that, not even Lumpy,” Eleanor 
answered scornfully. 

There was a commotion at the clubhouse, and the an- 
nouncement blared from the amplier on the roof: 

“Final event of the day! Tennis, two sets out of three! 
Guest member Hal Hingham of Boston versus — mr. ash- 
burn!” 

As Hal and Tim Ashburn rallied for service, the stands 
were packed with members of the Olympic Club. They 
were silent, and Hal felt the weight of their despair. He 
drove to Tim Ashbum’s forehand and backhand, and 
found them steady. Lobs did not bother him, nor volleys 
touch his smiling equanimity. He tested him with a drop 
shot, and this worked. His opponent flubbed it into the 
net. He c hoppe d, and Tim Ashburn lunged ineffectually 
at another short, b^ck-spinning ball. 

This was the secret of Tim Ashbum’s weakness! Now 
he would most carefully lose to the aging dictator by 
feeding him gentle, deep drives to his strength. 

But even as he did so, and Ijm Ashburn passed him 



Part Two 


118 


with shot after shot, Hal’s conscience began to bother 
him. He sensed an enormous hostility in the stands di- 
rected toward “the old man.” Shouldn’t he then change 
his point of view, thrash Ashbum, and free the Olympic 
Club from the domination of the man who refused to 
grow old? Somehow he knew this was wrong. For along 
with their hatred of Tim Ashbum, the members still 
expected him to win and lead them. They griped at his 
legend, yet needed it. They would be shocked if he were 
toppled — even though they resented him. Because he and 
his brand of physical culture had corrupted them. If Tim 
Ashbum were to lose, life would undergo a drastic and 
frightening change. The Olympic Club might be abol- 
ished, and the freed slaves wouldn't know what to do 
with their bodies. 

Thus Hal rationalized it, and went on to a decent de- 
feat. He knew the joys of the John The Baptist Complex, 
the eternal Number Two Man’s cry: “I am good, but, oh, 
I am not fit to tie the winner’s shoelaces!” It was close, 
honorable, fine. They went 7-5 and 5-7. Now it was 6-j 
in Tim Ashbum’s favor, Tim’s service, 40-30, match 
point. Pow! The man who refused to grow old had aced 
him in the blazing sunlight. He shook his head ruefully. 
“Never saw it!” The victor was hurdling the net. 

Hal shook hands with Tim Ashbum and wandered over 
to the sideline for a drink of water. As he sp]gphed cold 
water on his face, a girl went by witlymt looking at him. 

“Hey, I’m here,” he laughed weakly. 

“Are you?” she said. “You could have beaten him.” 

It was Joan Vigoro, and she was right As a person, he 
was now only an optica] illusion. 



119 


xvi The Athletic Crowd 


Regretting her rudeness, she came back and laid her 
hand on his arm. “Never mind. What you did was better 
for them," she said, with a contemptuous gesture toward 
the Olympic Club members. She added in a fierce under- 
tone: “See me at the party, and I’ll tell you — ” 

Voices from across the court summoned him. 

“Hey, boy!” 

“Come on, Hal!” 

He went along to watch the ceremonies. Sullenly they 
crowned Tim Ashbum with a laurel wreath. He stood 
with his sweaty ageless arms around pretty Eleanor. She 
no longer had eyes for Big Dick Trent, because the old 
man had done it again for one more year. 

The victory par.y was a mild affair. Once this group 
of athletes came indoors, they appeared to be shackled 
by their muscles. As conversation lapsed, the club mem- 
bers’ attention strayed to their muscles and those of 
others. They stroked their own arms and legs. Big Dick 
Trent carefully examined every inch of himself for 
minute abrasions that might mar his golden skin. 

As usual, Joan Vigoro sat alone. She caught Hal’s eye 
and beckoned to him. She waited moodily, with her arm 
around the silver cup she had won as champion of the 
girls’ division. 

“I’ve m'vf?. up my mind!” she whispered. “Listen!” 

“No, you mustnV,” Hal said, after she told him. Even 
though she wasn’t his type, and he didn’t care to be seen 
talking with her for too long, he thought her plan was a 
shame. But she insisted. 

Men wouldn’t let her be herself. They ignored and re- 



Part Two 


120 


jected her, and made her feel ugly. It was unnatural to 
run fast All right, then. She was going to the other ex* 
treme. She would give up all her pride. She had written 
to a Lonely Hearts Club, offering herself as a bride to 
anyone who would havf her. She would never high- 
jump again, or run again, but would devote herself ex- 
clusively to cooking and household drudgery. 

M I have an answer,” she told him. “A horrible old man, 
and I’m going to marry him.” 

Hal couldn’t stand her suffering. “All right,” he said 
angrily, “if you won’t take my advice, go ahead and be 
a fool,” and turned his back on Joan Vigoro. 

Gray-faced Tim Ashbum left, leaning on his wife’s 
arm. The party started to find its natural outlet in physi- 
cal feats. A man with ropy ankles inserted his feet under 
a wall radiator. He leaned backward with his body 
straight and stiff, hanging on only by his ankles, and went 
down, slowly as a minute hand, until he was flat on the 
floor. Then he lifted himself just as slowly to an upright 
position. 

The applause was interrupted by a crew-cut boy who 
appeared at the door and shouted: “Lumpy Modoc has 
found somebody who wants to fight! A guy outside has 
challenged him!” 

Everybody lushed into the street. 



121 


xvii The Death of Jiujitsu 
Chapter XVII The Death of Jiujitsu 

“What happened?” Hal asked Fred Watt, 
who had seen it all. 

“They bumped on the sidewalk. This guy . . 

L*jmpy had quit the athletic grounds in disgust be- 
cause another Olympic had gone by and nobody had 
given him a chance to use his jiujitsu. “What’s the use of 
learning it if everybody’s scared?” he complained. Just 
the same, he was still only five feet five inches tall. He 
stayed that way, and they could still look down on him. 
Girls too. He could lift them with one hand, but they 
were taller. “Nobody to practice holds with since the 
Jap quit,” he grumbled. It was so bad sometimes he 
actually wrestled with himself, although there was little 
satisfaction in that. As he trudged away from the club- 
house waving his arms and complaining, the astonishing 
thing happened. 

“This guy . . .” said Fred Watt, pointing to him ex- 
citedly. “He just elbowed Lumpy in the ribs, and he says: 
'Watch out where you’re going, you ape!’ ” 

Hal saw Lumpy shoulder to shoulder with a small, 
angry man. This fellow stood about five feet six. He 
didn’t look very strong. His face was weathered and 
knobbed like a fist. Bright black eyes considered Lumpy 
with unendurable contempt. He was dressed in blue 
jeans, white sash, a»\d red shirt, but this was his only con- 
cession to the holiday spirit. He was mean, and asking 
for it. He spat in the gutter and said: “Why don’t you 
get back in your cage?” 

The athletic crowd surrounded them, talking it up, 



Part Two 


122 


and Hal was the first to call out: “Go get him, Lump!” 

“Put up your fists!” said Lumpy Modoc, trembling 
with joy. 

The little man came at him. 

Lumpy picked him up and threw him over his shoulder. 
He seized him by the leg and sent him cartwheeling 
against a brick wall. The little man dropped, and Lumpy 
methodically shattered his head on the pavement, propped 
him against the wall, cuffed his neck, and batted his 
Adam’s apple. He released him. Absurdly, his adversary 
remained upright. Then Lumpy blinked from a right to 
the jaw, and stopped for a few seconds to consider this 
punch. 

“Go get him!” 

Lumpy corkscrewed the little man’s wrist and waved 
him like a flag. He threw him he knew not where or how 
far, and there was the screech of automobile brakes. The 
athletes swung around in amazement to see the little man 
crawl from underneath the car and come shambling back 
for more. 

b Lumpy glanced distrustfully at his biceps, and a small 
suspicion appeared to enter his mind. Forgetting his sci- 
ence, he rushed at the little man and knocked him down 
four times. In between the second and third knockdown 
he received a cruel kick in the shins. There were fists in 
his eyes. He took a tremendous, enraged breath, and — 
too late — realized that the indestructible head was diving 
at him. He couldn’t harden his solar plexus in time. A 
cannonball quaked in his stomach. He drifted along the 
sidewalk, his legs ambling in various directions. He ap- 



123 zvii The Death of Jiujitsu 

proached the lamp post slowly, and gave up. He hit 
gently, and collapsed. 

In silence the crowd made way for the little red, white, 
and blue turkeycock of a man, who strutted off toward 
the center of town. 

Lumpy Modoc’s sobbing filled the locker room. u The 
first timer he moaned. Hal wound the gauze around his 
bloody head. He could give no sympathy to the humili- 
ated strong boy, after noticing the contempt with which 
the other athletes turned their backs on him. He shrugged 
his shoulders and made a disparaging gesture to indicate 
that somebody had to care for the discredited one. 

“Don’t leave me!” begged Lumpy. He leaned his dis- 
colored head on I.al’s shoulder. The bloody towels and 
bandages gave him the look of a broken swami. The 
others had gone, and now Hal soothed him: “It could 
happen to anybody.” From far away he heard band 
music. “Let’s go watch the parade,” he suggested. 

It was better out there with the fife-and-drum corps. 
Lumpy’s spirits picked up. “Gee, I’d like to play the 
drum,” he said. They followed a particularly magnificent 
bass drum to the Court House Square. Here they came 
upon thousands of people gazing skyward. They followed 
the community gaze, searching for parachutes or rockets, 
but saw iv'th.irig. 

“Look at that i^azy guy!” 

“Where?” Hal demanded. 

“There he is!” cried Lumpy, and Hal caught sight of 
a tiny figure walking up the side of the courthouse , with- 


E 



Part Two 


124 


out a rope to help him, without anything. His body was 
rigid, at right angles to the side of the building, yet he 
walked up and up, defying gravity itself. A human fly! 

The incredible climber reached the golden spike on 
top of the courthouse dome, wrapped his leg around it, 
whirled, and waved his hat, as the applause went roaring 
up to him. Then he descended slowly, in measured steps, 
the same way, only this time facing down — and it could 
be observed that he was grinning — leaping finally into a 
shower of coins from the populace. 

They pressed close, and then Hal heard Lumpy shout 
in terror: “That’s him! That’s the guy!” and saw him run 
away. The crowd swept him toward a new experience, 
and he joined the people who were flinging dimes and 
quarters, and even fifty-cent pieces, into a large canvas 
trough. A placard fixed to this receptacle proclaimed: 
“merko the human fly.” 


Chapter XVIII The Human Fly 

While the coins were still flying around 
him, Merko the Human Fly walked scowling to the 
canvas trough. He unwound a long leather cord, walked 
around to the other side of the receptacle, and with a 
mighty yank zippered the trough shut. Then, ignoring 
the spectators’ gasps of admiration and /lie money thrown 
too late that pattered against the closed canvas, he heaved 
the great burden of coin onto his shoulders and marched 
out of the square. 

The crowd followed Ijim, and Hal followed the crowd. 



125 


xviii The Human Fly 

His heart was pumping and he was violently excited. He 
noticed how all the people did not press close to Merko. 
They milled in a wide circle around the little man, who 
refused to stagger under his huge sack. Merko strode on, 
his face contorting into a tighter and tighter knot of de- 
termination to make it wherever he was going, whatever 
for. Hal found that, like all the others, he had to run to 
keep up with Merko, who darted now into a side street, 
then into a dead-end alley, and marched up to a seven- 
foot fence. 

The crowd backed up. Embarrassment seized every- 
body, because the little man, for no reason except curi- 
osity on their part, had been forced into this corner. But 
then he turned on them with a fierce look. Shouting a 
wordless oath, K swung the gigantic zippered trough as 
a hammer-thrower would, over the fence, and, still hang- 
ing onto it, disappeared, flung out of sight by his own 
feat. 

Hal ran to the fence and tried vainly to climb it. He had 
to find Merko the Human Fly, catch him before he got 
away. He ran around the comer, searching every door- 
way, frightened at what kind of demon the miraculous 
climber must be to possess him so. A little man like no- 
body else he had ever seen. ‘Yes, like nobody else,’ he 
thought. ‘I’ve got to talk to him.’ 

But there was no such person, Dr. Modesto said. Merko 
had to be like somebody. Every man was a product of his 
town pattern, even a human fly. He tried to put himself 
in Merko’s frame of mind in order to guess what direction 
he would have taken. It was no good. Just as he defied 
gravity, Merko seemed to escape Centralistic law. 



Part Two 


126 


He might have gone to the bank with all those coins. 
But it was a holiday. Then Hal noticed a fellow with an 
amazed expression, and rushed up to him. 

“Did you see a little guy with a sackful of coins on his 
back?” 

“ See him? There he is, down that block, getting on 
the motorcycle.” 

Timid and excited, he approached the motorcycle. It 
had a sidecar, into which Merko was stuffing the canvas 
trough. He glanced up at Hal, and went on with his task. 

“Excuse me . . .” 

The Human Fly didn’t answer. He continued with 
furious, gloomy concentration to pound the sack deeper 
into the sidecar. Hal knew he would have to pour every- 
thing into centralizing this little man — to project his like- 
ness in such a way that for Merko the very air would be- 
come a mirror. He watched him 'force the canvas into a 
space that nature had intended to be too small. Then 
Merko straddled the motorcycle. He kicked, and the 
engine roared and died. 

Hal stepped up. Expressionlessly, indomitably, he 
handed the little man his card and said: “I want to talk 
to you.” 

The other scrutinized the card and put it in his pocket. 
He kicked the motor again, and over the coax shouted 
something at Hal. 

“What?” Hal yelled. He couldn’t read a yes or a no on 
the fist of a face vibrating before him. With a wild feel- 
ing, he climbed onto the load of canvas. He waited with 
his eyes shut for a push, in the face, but was jolted in- 



127 xvm The Human Fly 

stead by the roaring start of the motorcycle. He grasped 
what he thought was an iron bar, but which, moving, 
proved to be his companion’s arm. They spun around a 
comer. Hal found* the zipper cord on the canvas sack, 
and hung on. After a number of yiolent swerves the 
motorcycle reached the main road, and with one gunning 
acceleration they were out qf town. Hal relaxed, as the 
steady roar became a sort of quiet. He glimpsed Merko’s 
grim but not unkind face, his hair flung out behind him 
in the shape of a flat heart, his amazingly ungoggled eyes 
blasted by the wind but nevertheless gazing straight 
ahead, as teardrops whipped out of their comers, several 
of them wetting Hal’s cheek. 

Hal lay across the canvas mound of money. He felt 
almost sleepy. lie imagined that they were in roaring 
flight toward a new world that would somehow be better 
for him. Only two or three minutes had gone by when he 
felt Merko’s hand griping his shoulder. The motorcycle 
swerved into a road full of rocks that jarred him to the 
eyeballs. 

They came to a stop in a clearing on the slope of^a 
small hill. The grass was dry and dusty, and the heat of 
the afternoon beat down on them. Hal waited for Merko 
to unload his money, but the little man only shook him- 
self with a doglike motion and set off down a path cir- 
cling the hill. Hal stayed with him. He offered Merko a 
cigarette. 

“I’m not smoking.” 

“You don’t smoke.” 

“I smoke when I want to. When I choose to want to,” 
said Merko in a harsh, flat voice* 



Part Two 


128 


‘What can I say to him?’ Hal wondered. “They’re bad 
for your wind, I guess,” he said. 

“They wodld be,” returned his companion, “if I let 
them.” Merko suddenly began to walk faster. 

“Oh, I see ” 

“No, you don’t,” Merko declared in the same rigid 
tone that made Hal increasingly uneasy because he felt 
some terrible emotion behind it. “I could smoke too 
much and still not let it get my wind.” 

They walked on in silence. Now and then Merko spat 
on the grass. “Unless I wanted to lose my wind,” he said, 
for the first time without being spoken to. They came 
to an upgrade. Ramming his hands in his pockets, Merko 
redoubled his pace. The steeper the grade, the faster he 
walked. 

“How can you control — all that?” Hal panted. 

“Will power!” 

“But,” said Hal, as they plunged uphill, “smoking is a 
■physical thing.” 

“So is will power,” said Merko through his clenched 
.teeth. 

Hal thought of Merko climbing up the side of the 
courthouse, and of his feats with the money trough. “You 
know, you left your money back there,” he remembered. 

Merko laughed. “Who could lift it out?” 

“Well, they might bum — ” 

“Asbestos.” 

Hal had begun to feel emanations from this strange 
little man like nobody else. Glancing at his companion’s 
knobbed face and fists, he exulted in the same maniacal 
concentration on not just walking but smashing a path 



129 zvrn The Human Fly 

through the air as he walked. Will power was a physical 
thing. 

“I could do it,” he asserted emotionally, “if I could 
just get the hang of it.” 

“What?” Merko demanded, harshly 
*Climb — ■” 

“ That Merko said. “If you want to, you can.” 

“Yes, once you get the hang of the law of gravity.” 
“Gravity!” Merko laughed with contempt even for it. 
“That doesn’t make any difference. If you want to climb, 
just go” he s-tid with a ferocious and agonized grimace. 
He repeated in a fury: “Go! That’s all. Do it!” 

“But what’s the secret?” 

“Punish yourself!” Merko declared passionately. 
“Whip yourself. Drive. One slip and you’re through.” 
He glared at Hal. “Understand?” 

“Yes, but — up the side of a building?” 

“Drive, that’s all.” 

“Don’t you use some kind of equipment?” Hal asked. 
Merko sat down on the grass. He took off his sneakers 
and displayed small but incredibly muscled feet which hr 
flexed like hands. He bent his left foot from the arch 
until the big toe touched the bottom of his heel. 

“I’m no freak. I didn’t have feet like these in the be- 
ginning. I used suction cups like all the others do. Or 
metal shoes and electromagnets — it’s all the same fraud, 
because you’re n<x doing it yourself. I knew that, and I 
wouldn’t let myself be satisfied. I said: ’I’ll whip this.’ 

“They laughed at me. They sounded just like you: 
‘What are you going to do — repeal the law of gravity?’ ” 
Hal drew away as the little ma§i snarled up at him. 



Part Two 


130 


“As if that could stop me! I knew there had to be 
some way. Of course, I didn’t know then that you can 
do any thing' you want.” Again Merko fixed his angry 
gaze on Hal, daring him to contradict this. 

But Hal was with him. .Will power was the answer. 
He felt himself under the spell of two powerful eyes. The 
little man thrust a spikolike finger at Hal’s chest. 

“When they laughed at me I went away. I went up on 
a mountain. A voice told me: ‘ Refuse to be killed,’ and 
I threw myself off.” 

“Off the mountain!” 

“It was a precipice, with brush and brambles and rocks 
at the bottom. I hit on my pelvis. I broke my ribs and my 
jaw and one leg, but I crawled home!" Merko’s shout 
echoed around the rocky hillside. 

Out of habit Hal started to say: “I’d do the same, we 
all would,” but the pathetic lie wouldn’t come forth. 
“You must have gone to the hospital,” he said feebly. 

“That’s right,” said Merko. “I slept a week or two. 
Then I got up and went home, and I began my training, 
^.started with my feet. I clasped irons on the toes and 
heels and flexed them two hours every day until they 
could do what I promised.” 

“Your feet are their own suction cups!” 

Merko cast a vicious glance into space. “They laughed 
at me,” he said. “Now they’re sniveling, because I put 
them out of business. They sneak arouiia after my secret. 
They’d kiss me anywhere. I made one of them — I hate 
people touching me, so I made him do it, for the ’secret,’ 
and then I told him: ‘Throw yourself off a mountain.’ ” 

Merko’s eyes glowed (in the serene afternoon. Hal. felt 



131 


xvin The Human Fly 

that his eyes were glowing too, and suddenly he grew 
frightened. He was talking to an illegal person who might 
lead him to a precipice, to crash on rocks he wasn’t ready 
for. Yet when Merko leaped to his feet, he leaped too, 
and went running after hj^.maniacal brother in greater 
fear that he might lose him. 

Merko pointed. “There’s my place.” 

Hal saw a tiny cottage on top of the next hill. It ap- 
peared to be surrounded by a motionless slide of rocks, 
except that the avalanche — beginning as it did at the hill- 
top — couldn’t have come from anywhere. They turned 
into a grove of pine trees, and it was surprising to come 
upon a small cabin there. A golden-headed little girl about 
five years old was playing with pine cones in the front" 
yard, and she called out happily: “Hi, Uncle Merko!” 

“Hello, youngster,” Merko responded gruffly, without 
looking at her. 

“I like little girls,” said Hal. 

“They’re better than the grown-up kind.” 

Hal realized that he hadn’t connected Merko with a 
girl, a wife, or anyone. Merko spat. “Women are no gopd 
in my business,” he muttered, and quickly ran ahead. Hal 
was used to the maneuver now. He could tell when he 
had embarrassed Merko, for it was at these times that he 
abruptly changed his pace or tone. Whenever he spat, it 
marked the punctuation of his mood. 

“Women drag you down!” 

“Well . . .” 

“I don’t need them. I don’t like effeminate people hang- 
ing around me anyway. They can’t climb. What can 
they do? Trap you! Make sure you keep your rubbers 



Part Two 


132 


on,” Merko emphasized with a revolting leer. They 
tramped through more pine cones, and he kicked at them. 

“Who lives ‘back there?” Hal asked, as they started up 
the hill. 

“Someone I used to know*”- 

“The little girl seems to — ” 

“Girl!” said Merko angrily. “He’s got three more in- 
side.” 

“Don’t you like them?” 

“I bring them candy. What am I supposed to do? They 
can’t help all the ruin they cause.” 

Hal gasped as he came up against Merko’s pointed 
elbow. 

“You can come to my place — if you want to,” Merko 
sneered. “As long as you’re here.” He seemed lost in a 
furious embarrassment. “What do I care? You don’t have 
to come — I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to buy any 
life insurance, if that’s what you’re looking for. You think 
■you can agree me into doing anything you want, but it 
won’t work. Do you know something? I don’t even like 
y<ju.” 

It was time not to agree. 

“I can make you like me,” Hal said calmly. 

“Come on,” Merko said. “Watch out for the rocks.” 

They trudged up the hill past loose stones and boulders 
on all sides that deemed ready to toppje»if they were 
breathed upon. 



133 


xix Merko 


Chapter XIX Merko 

They sat down to dinner at half past four, 
and the whole business — the hour, the dinner, the house 
and furniture, and what th«*y Mid to one another — was 
all %ut of kilter. Merko opened the blinds, letting in a 
flood of sunlight that seemed to become hotter as it grew 
later, yet he sat in it wearing a dark coat, and frowned 
when Hal opened his collar. 

They had grapes and walnuts and a kind of sour cream. 
Then Merkc heated up a can of corned-beef hash. This 
was followed by lobster claws and apple pie, and finally 
a slice of hot rare roast beef. Now that dinner was over, 
Merko was chewing gum and mixing martinis in a huge 
cocktail-shaker. l'. j shook the silver vessel so hard, with 
such minute vibrations, that it did not appear to move in 
his small, bony hands. 

It was the second rdund. Merko was already quite 
drunk. He shouted: “We’re having what is known as a 
good time! n He roared with laughter at the slightest 
provocation. Thrusting the cocktail-shaker under Hal’s 
nose, still vibrating it, he chuckled. “Here's what’ll make 
us friendly. That’s the idea, isn’t it?” 

Hal’s stomach was in a turmoil. He had been afraid to 
refuse the melange of courses, but he needed will power 
like Merko’s to keep them down. Every new serving that 
went into his stomach immediately revolted against the 
course that preceded it. He felt his stomach beginning 
very slowly to turn over. On the phonograph Merko 
was playing what sounded like Arabian music. . . . 

And it was not only what was going on inside of him, 



Part Two 


134 


but what hejooked at. Every object in Merko’s house, 
and in his life, was systematically placed to violate every 
other object. Anyone taking inventory when the owner 
was not around would have found it impossible to tell 
what kind of person lived he r e. 

There was a set of bar bells and some half-finished em- 
broidery on a lace napkin; on one table copies of Vogue 
and Boxing & Wrestling magazines. Around the walls 
hung reproductions of a severe Madonna, a calendar girl 
on a tiger-skin rug, Degas dancers, a canvas crowded 
with red-coated huntsmen drinking beer, another girl 
(February) crouched naked on skis, an actual American 
flag crossed with the flag of British Honduras, a map of 
Nantucket, and above the front door, where a tuxedo 
hung down the length of peeling logs, the head and 
shoulders of someone with a small, indistinct face being 
crucified. 

Again, in the bookcase a chaoS of titles and authors had 
t obviously been arranged to destroy one another: A 
Laugh a Day Keeps the Doctor Away, The Divine 
Comedy, Stover at Yale, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, You Are 
What You Eat, Plays of Lope de Vega, Art of the Pole 
Vault, Black Beauty, Macbeth, Away to the Gaspe; 
Woodford, Browning, Jonathan Edwards, Baudelaire, 
Louisa May Alcott; and after the startling homogeneity 
of three idlers, Walton, Pepys, and Omar Khayyam, two 
books in the right corner of the bottdm shelf bound in 
heavy black tape, Prometheus Unbound and The World 
as Will and Idea. 

Yet, perversely, on the table adjacent to these two 
God-challenging volumes were the remains of a game of 



135 


xix Merko 


solitaire swept away, some of it fallen to the floor. All 
about the room there were similar signs of idleness, 
doodles on odd pieces of paper, completed crossword 
puzzles, a page of chess problems, and on one sheet an 
infinity of tic-tac-toes going off the edge of the paper, 
as If the player had gone mad trying to beat himself. 

But among these remnants of fanatic time-wasting 
could be seen the evidence of desperate stretches of labor, 
of mind and conscience — the proposition typed out: 

Achilles pursues the tortoise. During the split second 
he draws exactly even, the tortoise moves a little bit 
ahead. Since at the one instant of evenness the tortoise 
will always be moving forward, no matter how fast 
Achilles runs h' is unable logically to pass the crawl- 
ing animal. 

And below hammered out in black capitals: “disprove 

THIS.” 

Piles of crushed paper surrounded the typewriter. Else- 
where, amid more crumpled sheets, Hal glimpsed the 
fragment: 

Blasted by Bright Agonies of the Mind, 

O, Neighbors, Neighbors, think me not unkind. . . . 

Near by lay a little prayer book with a knotted ribbon 
smeared in mud. 

Merko was walking around, brandishing the shaker 
and shouting to Hal: “Drink up! Come on, you want to 
make friends with me, don’t you?” 

Hal drained his glass and held, it out for more. He was 



Part Two 


136 


no longer feeling sick. He felt himself floating on top of 
a tremendous martini. 

“Have some more, you phony! Drink up, or I’ll force 
it down your gozzle!” 

Hal had one. Although the gin mists were rising around 
the edges of his mind, he saw through them coolly. He 
knew that Merko was disturbed that he hadn’t been able 
to frighten him, and now he was putting on more wild 
behavior to drive him away. Merko had some terrible 
weakness to hide. But he would give it away to the 
Young Man Like Everybody Else from whom no secret 
could be kept. 

“You can’t yes me, god damn it.” Merko tilted the 
shaker to his lips and swallowed everything in it. He 
stood before Hal, weaving, with a bumptious grin. “Mr. 
Life-Insurance Man . . . 

“Phony!” exclaimed Merko, with incomprehensible 
delight that this should be so. “You’re nothing but a hat 
rack. You haven’t got any character at all. You aren’t 
anybody — just a hat hanging on nothing. Get up. You 
can’t sit there. Go stand by the door where you belong.” 

He actually made a motion to pull Hal out of his chair, 
but was halted by a long sad smile. 

“Don’t give me that smirk. You don’t know any- 
thing.” 

Hal hadn’t in fact any reason for smiling, except to 
seem mysterious and thereby distract Mferko from laying 
hands on him. It was the right thing to do. Merko stepped 
back. He made a desperate gesture with both hands, and 
the cocktail-shaker fell to the Boor. 

“Don’t you pretend to feel sorry for me!” he shouted. 



137 xz The Life of an Individualist 

But Hal was saying gently: “You poor guy. I’ll bet 
you haven’t got a friend in the world. Why don’t you let 
yourself go, and be like other people?” 

With a roar of self-pity Merko sat down on the floor 
and began rocking with his head in his hands. Then, as 
H?1 expected, Merko told him his life story. 


Chapter XX The Life of an Individualist 

The Flying Merkos. They didn’t want the 
baby. Tried everything, but they couldn’t stop it. Knew 
it would wreck the act, so she lay all day long in hot 
baths, ate horse r ills, and fell downstairs. An indomitable 
little creature kept growing inside her. At night she felt 
drums in her abdomen, feet and fists hammering, want- 
ing out. After a while*she began to giggle. “Thad,” she 
said, “it’ll be a strong one.” He only grunted. “What’s 
going to happen to me — without a partner?” he de- 
manded. She let him put her over a barrel a few more 
times, but then she wouldn’t. They had to make the tifest 
of the situation. “Hey," he said one night, “I got it.” He 
told her. At first she wasn’t sure. “Whatsa matter?” She 
couldn’t say. She kissed him, and they lay in bed making 
plans. The act would be greater than ever, after all, and 
they dreamed c f the Biggest Top. . . . 

“she flies through the air with her baby on her 
back.” He had come out, and they started using him 
when he was four months old. The first agent they 
showed it to almost went crazy — booked them in every 



Part Two 


138 


state. There weren’t any laws against it, because nobody 
had ever tried such a thing before. No violation of child 
labor either. All he did was lie there in the papoose ar- 
rangement strapped onto her shoulders. They taught him 
to smile and how to fall (whiph babies know pretty well 
anyway) and, after a few months, to smile while he was 
falling. . . . 

These were his earliest memories: the muscles of his 
mother’s back straining under him; diving out of great 
dark theaters into a blazing light full of ropes and rings; 
his old man, now far away and suddenly swooping 
toward him, the tensing of his mother’s flanks, a flip, 
ropes, wires, burning hoop, and pale sweaty arms around 
him; or falling, falling until he finally hit a net and re- 
bounded, smiling at a roar of faces. . . . 

I was bom into an unnatural act. It was what shocked 
people — and brought in the money. Whatever town 
they played, as soon as the posters went up, some church 
os women’s chib would complain. But they would have 
warned the manager beforehand — wait, wait, just one 
show. They knew. The people who came to cry shame 
on her always ended up yelling for joy at this wonderful 
mother-son relationship. . . . 

He grew older. The posters had to be changed, “she 

FLIES THROUGH THE AIR WITH HER BOY ON HER BACK.” He 
began to get embarrassed by the blown-up photos in the 
lobby. 

The old man was getting moody. / couldn't help it. 
He was sore because he didn’t count any more, with the 
crowds, with her. Nobody wanted to watch him do nip- 
ups. The kid was the thing. The woman and the kid. And 



1 39 xx The Life of an Individualist 

they were getting pretty close together lately, leaving 
him out of the conversation. Soon he was sulking all the 
time. Up on the trapeze his sweaty face gazed at them 
mournfully. A couple of performances he didn’t show 
up and it made no difference. The agent told him he 
might as well stay out of the act altogether. He hung 
around. 

What 'was I supposed to do? One night mother and son 
missed the rings and fell into the net together. There was 
a long agonized shout as they went down, but to show 
they weren’t hurt the mother lifted up her bpy in her 
arms and kissed him and presented him, arms outstretched 
to the audience; he smiling, of course, out of habit or 
rather necessity (his mouth automatically opened and 
drew into a cun when they were in mid-air) and the 
crowd cried and blew kisses at them. After that she in- 
sisted on using the fake fall and kiss as a socko finale. 

He was sick of it. N«ver had a chance to be alone, to 
be himself . They were always following him around, the 
old lady with love, the old man with advice. The old man 
kept whining and complaining: “It’s time you went out 
on your own. Stand on your own feet. You’re getting to 
be a burden on your mother.” 

The two things he hated most in the world — love and 
advice. If they had left him alone long enough, he could 
have got set and orphaned his mind, but he had no self 
to operate from. He tried to look himself up in libraries, 
in the eyes of his schoolmates (he changed schools at 
least three times a year), in what his schoolteachers said. 
No answer had been created to fit him. The schoolboys 
thought he was strange for riding on his mother’s back. 



Part Two 


140 


The teachers considered him strange for asking if he 
couldn’t come and live with them. The library books (all 
of which seined to have been written for parents) told 
him only that he was maladjusted. Bastards! One time he 
skipped his gym workout and ran into a church. “Honor 
thy father and mother,” said'the man in charge, looking 
at him strangely. 

He was a thankless son. He didn’t appreciate all the 
pain and heart-strain she was going through on his ac- 
count. The old man kept beating on him: “You ought to 
be ashamed. It’s time you worked up an act of your own.” 
She flared up: “What kind of a father are you? What 
are you wishing on the little boy?” “I’m taking over,” 
the old man said. “The boy’s coming up aloft with me 
for some solo training.” But he himself was trembling. 
He bungled the first catch and they fell. With a shriek 
she swung the net under where her son was falling. The 
old man hit the floor on his head, I couldn't help it! 

It knocked, the old man queer. He lost all interest in 
life except to break up the mother-and-son act which he 
(he forgot) had created in the first place. Wandering 
afid murmuring to himself, he followed them from theater 
to theater crying out against woman’s folly and his son’s 
unmanliness. He reinforced his lamentations with horo- 
scopes and statistics — charts of performance curves, ag- 
ing curves, and cycles of fortune proving that the day 
had nearly come when they were bound to slip. They 
tried to drive him away, but he hung around. 

The old man had to be right, of course. One day or 
another. Three months past his fifteenth birthday the boy 
felt her body groan under him, and they fell. He found 



141 xx The Life of an Individualist 

die net, but she landed exactly as the old man had. . . . 

The world blamed me! T^he old man told all the papers: 
"He made her do it. He had a hold over her and wouldn’t 
let go!” “My little boy!” she moaned at the hospital. “My 
broken-headed little boy,” It was useless to point out to 
htr that she was the one with the fractured skull. For the 
rest of her life she refused to believe this. 

Somebody got out an injunction against me. Facing the 
music, he scuffed his toe on the floor, and the judge said: 
“We have bred a vicious generation.” ‘Farp,’ he thought, 
*farp.’ “Bur thank God in this case . . . it’s not too late 
. . . paraphrase Victor Hugo . . . stands in the docket 
with every young delinquent . . . depravity not bom 
but ... in a sense each of us personally responsible . . . 
society . . . hig:t hopes . . . dismissed.” Paroled to his 
parents, in psychiatric custody. 

. . . “Look, son, yotf seem determined to make your- 
self into a very unhappy young man. But what for? 
There’s no sense in it. I’m speaking from your own 
point of view. Let’s suppose all your resentments 
are perfectly justified. Well, so what? Nursing the 
grudge will only make you unhappier. And in spite 
of your pose to the contrary, I know you don’t want 
to be unhappy. At bottom you’re a social animal like 
the rest of us.” *7 am myself .” “True enough. You’ve 
said that many times. But one is more than oneself. 
One is a member — ” “ Farp .” “You see! There’s the 
pattern of resentment emerging again.” “Farp.” “The 
irony of it, boy, is that you’re trying so desperately 
to be different — yet really your problems are exactly 



Part Two 


142 


the same as those of hundreds of other boys I’ve 
talked to. The same tone, same reactions, same words 
even — and the same will to be miserable. Don’t you 
want to be happy?” “ / want to be myself “Yes, I 
know. Frankly, I would haw* <-o be a complete idiot 
not to be aware of this desire in you by now. But 
here’s another approach. Have you ever heard of the 
poet John Donne? He was a very wise fellow. He 
said: ‘No man’ — it applies equally to boys — ‘No man 
is an island. . . .’” “Farp.” 

Eighteen. The day of freedom. The old man wanted 
him to settle for the trapeze. “It’s a safe and steady liv- 
ing.” “Always work over a net!” she cried, snuffling in- 
terminable good-bys. He ran out of the house. One thing 
he knew. He was made for something better than the 
trapeze. He didn’t want merely to earn a living. He 
wanted to express himself. How, \3od knew. He got on 
a train, shivefing, crying to himself at the enormous dis- 
crepancy between his aims and abilities. 

Runaway. Roustabout. Years of misery. Tugging re- 
sentfully on ropes, hoisting aloft circus girls whose petty 
antics disgusted him in comparison with what his mother 
used to do, and then that disgusted him, and he’d shut his 
eyes so hard there were circles of light in them, and pull, 
and haul, and he’d only watch the men. Yet he despised 
them too, for their arrogant display of picture muscle, 
and the skill they had in performing trivial tricks — rou- 
tines laid out long ago by others, irrelevant, uncreative, 
challenging nothing. He knew he could do better, the 
best, if he could be alone in the tent some night, all to 



143 


xx The Life of m Individualist 

himself. Alone he would go flying through hot, silent, 
klieg-lighted spaces. Gradually as the hours went by he 
would discover the unperformed twists, flings, and leaps 
that were now imprisored in his body. Ultimately there 
would come the one leap. It would express him abso- 
lutely, and therefore at its climax violate some law of 
nature. 

But he never had this chance to be alone. His body was 
in the service of others. There was no pause in life. A 
man was picked up in the tempo of this life, and couldn’t 
get off it. The body had no time to reflect-. It spent its 
energies working for other bodies. It developed co-opera- 
tive reflexes instead of expressive ones. Eventually your 
body didn’t dare. . . . They were always after him, 
hurrying, imposing on his body. Not just the job, the 
girls. They teased him beyond endurance. 

I swore Fd never touch a woman , and I never have. 
He fought off their soft ways. Took long cold showers. 
When they pawed at him he ran from them. Swarming 
up ropes pursued by laughing circus girls. One day the 
boss caught sight of him in wild flight through the 
rigging, and was astonished. “Hey, we can use that!” 
Later, on the ground, observing the drab-apple muscles of 
his discovery’s arms and legs, he shook his head. “You 
can’t make it in tights.” But then he brightened. “So who 
wants you in tights? You’re a natural comic! We’ll do it 
just like I saw you. Putty up your nose and have the girls 
chase you, and then they catch up with you, see, 
and . . .” 

I quit. No women were going to handle him. The idea 
of 9 woman’s hand touching him was enough to make 



Part Two M4 

him tremble. The threat of dinging bodies made him 
want to soar free — running wasn’t fast enough. Threats 
of soft flesh Entered his dreams. Their bodies hunted him 
night after night. Yet even in his sleep he managed to 
thwart them by waking up or the instant and rushing 
for the cold shower, and he had never lost this race. If 
possible, the dreams of hrascular flesh were even worse, 
for they always turned into his old lady, and he was 
transported back into vaudeville, once more the little 
jockey. Either they didn’t measure up to her, or they 
were too much like her. And now, quitting, he stayed 
true to himself. . . . 

The Depression. Window-washer. Steeple jack. Gym 
teacher in a boys’ prep school. Clerk of the body. High 
diver. Flagpole-sitter gaping at the sky. The servant of 
others. Walkathon — pulled a tendon; the Boston Mara- 
thon — flopped in the Newton hills. Years. Desperation. 
He was no nearer to expressing ‘nimself, and time was 
^passing. Was he like all the others? Bom to be humbled, 
hobbled? . . . Bastards! He gritted his teeth. Six-day 
biqycle race. Came in last Rodeo. A humped-back Brah- 
ma bull — volunteers — ride him for just ten seconds. A 
thousand dollars. “Can You Ride Big Sam?” He couldn’t 
Acrobat, ventriloquist, a gloomy song and dance. Fired. 
Knockabout stooge for three Turkish weight-lifters. Let 
a magician pull yards of flannel out of his nose. Slack 
wire, teeterboard, trampoline. Finally with suction cups 
on his shoes, now at the point where the only way he 
could make a living was by walking upside down. 

Hanging upside down, thinking. He took a step. A 
cymbal crashed in the orchestra pit. Another step. Crash. 



145* xx The Life of an Individualist 4 

A child howled out of the balcony. The sound infuri- 
ated him. All at once he saw the ridiculousness of his 
position. “What am I doing here?” He would have 
thrown his arms in the air, but they were already dangling 
down, so he could only crook his elbows, clench his 
fistS, and once more plant his foot on the aboveboard to 
the accompaniment of the cymbal, “what am i doing 
here?” “Mama!” cried the child in the balcony. “When’s 
he supposed to fall?” He swayed a moment. 

“Now, youngster!” he bellowed. Wrenching one foot 
free and then the other, he fell twirling in -one, two 
somersaults. 7 landed on my feet. He thumbed his nose at 
all the world he could see, and, followed by a chorus of 
boos, rushed offstage. 

Later, laughter followed him into the cool alley behind 
the theater. He had expected this, and distributed bloody 
noses among them. But so ridiculous did he appear that 
the wire-walkers and acrobats had gone on laughing any- 
way, bloody noses and all. 

Let them. Td whip gravity. It was no wild impulse. He 
had been mulling it over for days before the answer hit 
him. It was simple, will power. 

Leaving the laughter of oafs behind him, he made for 
the high ledge he’d had in mind for so long. He went 
straight to his objective. Exactly straight. That was the 
idea. No physical object would be permitted to detour 
him. He would make no concessions. Whatever was in 
his way he would knock down, climb, or jump over, but 
make. Because it was his will to do so. He would just go. 

Bound for the mountain, splashing across moonlit 
brooks. Unless they coincided with his path, bridges did 



146 


»Part Two 

noc exist. (Up and over a haystack.) Punish yourself, 
whip yourself, but make it. For nothing. For absolutely 
no reason except that he felt like it. Or perhaps because 
he didn’t feel like it at all, and would therefore exercise 
his will in the opposite direction. (Through a field of 
thistles.) Simply force his body to do whatever he 
ordered, or else. One slip and you're through. He could, 
if he chose, eat a rock. If it got stuck he would sit down 
and systematically knead it through his intestines, and go 
on. For nothing. He felt a great wind of freedom blowing 
on him. It hummed through the barbed-wire fences. 
(Climbing a house, shots in the night. “Thief!”) March 
on, he said. 

It seemed to him that his will had become a huge new 
muscle within his body, invisible to others, but huge, 
exerting irresistible leverage on all his other muscles. 

(After the prickly hedge, a crown of thorns. Up the 
mountain now, thrashing steadily uphill through tangles 
of scrub.) He spat at a near-by star. Not out of malice. 
He just couldn’t hold himself in. Alone for the first time 
ig his life. Himself. Emancipated from the very earth. 

There was no feat of any description that he couldn’t 
accomplish once he put his mind to it. Not part or most 
of his mind, but absolutely all of it. Which meant cutting 
free of everybody, every consideration in the world but 
the one objective. Go blind except for one tiny gimlet 
hole of fixed intent, and then go. No one had ever gone 
the way he knew how to go. Because they had cared a 
little bit, paused, considered, thought about consequences. 
Even the ruthless ones were wary. They didn't carry it all 
the way. 



147 xz The Life of an Individualist 

But he would now free himself of the last laws «nd 
limitations of man, and (say, precisely because he didn’t 
want to) break them one by one — gravity, decency, 
diminishing returns, conservation of energy. Ignore space 
and time, and, to do this-, break free of habit. Have no 
h$bits. Seeing life as a whirling disk and all men in their 
grooves, he would be a needle dragging back and forth 
across the record, expressing nothing but his own will 
perhaps, but making his ovm sound, he would go. 

Give him an obstacle, any damned circumstance or 
thing, and he would hit it head on, billygoat it, and ram 
and batter, and crowd, push, unload on it, scrabble, reach, 
claw, and keep on fighting not merely to the death but 
through death and out the other side to life again, and 
keep on, and again, until he couldn’t go any further, and 
still go on, extending himself to the last thread of the 
last fiber of muscle he possessed, and then shred that last 
thread infinitely until he had it (for no special reason) 
made. 

Bursting out of the last patch of scrub, he reached the 
top of the mountain. He went out on the ledge and sat 
there until the sunrise revealed the pink rocks at the bot- 
tom of the precipice. “Go ahead,” the voice said, “let’s 
see if you can do it.” He listened for a while to the voice 
telling him that he would not be killed. The sun grew 
brighter. The rocks turned yellow, and then became clear, 
of no color; he saw all their points and edges. It. He went 
over with a shout of joy. 

“But you’re alive,” murmured Hal, who had almost 
fallen asleep. 



Part Two 1*8 

“It was a hundred feet down," said Merko," with those 
rocks at the bottom. But something told me: ‘You won’t 
be killed because you will not.’ In the air it was my last 
thought: * You will not .’ 

“I came down smash. Aftec. * while I heard a voice 
crying — me, of course — and I knew I had made it because 
there was my body sort of strewn all around me, de- 
stroyed, except that I wouldn't be. I began laughing atmy 
body because it couldn’t endure the pain, but it had to. I 
told my cowardly body: ‘You see, I mean business. Let’s 
go now.’ 

**/ crawled home. 1 ” cried the little man. “That was the 
test. And when I got there I made myself a cup of tea 
because I didn’t want it. I drank it very slowly before I 
crawled down to the main road. Then a fellow came 
along in a car and I refused him — to teach my body an- 
other lesson, and when the second car came I was making 
for another cliff. You know why 1 1 let that one take me 
, to the hospital?” 

‘What does he want me to say?’ Hal wondered dazedly, 
as he shrank from Merko’s sawing arms. 

“Because by that time you’d already proved — ” 

“Pure caprice!” said his host in a nearly inaudible 
whisper, and fell lolling into an armchair. 

His Adam’s apple moved in long convulsions. He ap- 
peared not so much drunk as exhausted. His eyelids were 
red, his cheeks white and sunken, and all at once he was 
a used-up little man, a possible candidate for life insur- 
ance. 

He got up again and moved about the room, and now 
he was putteriqg, touching his caprices. He picked op a 



14 * 


zxi Hal and Merko 


crossword puzzle, scribbled in a few letters, and put*it 
down. He applied a brown crayon to a sketch of several 
frolicking horses; rattled out a sentence on his typewriter; 
took a desultory bang at the punching-bag. 

“It’s all a hoax!” he muttered. 

“What?” 

“This life,” said Merko, and he toppled with a gentle 
sigh face down on the rug. 

‘Oh, well,’ thought Hal woozily. ‘It’s the only one 
we’ve got. Might as well make the best . . .’ 

The room began whirling around him faster and faster. 
He lay down carefully by Merko’s side, and let drunken- 
ness in, and sleep. 


Chapter XXI Hal and Merko 

Hal woke ’up to a bright morning. The air 
was sweet and fresh. A loud twittering was in progress. 
Hundreds of birds were hopping among the boulders, 
and he saw that Merko was feeding them. The little map 
made funny clucking sounds. He seemed to be talking to 
his guests. Hal sank back onto the bed, and realized that 
Merko must have carried him into the room. He remem- 
bered nothing of it. His eyes felt sunken in and his tongue 
was furry. Someone had filled his head with cement. 

Merko returned to the kitchen and began making 
scrambled eggs and bacon. The smell of the bacon was 
delicious. Merko leaned in the bedroom doorway and 
shouted jovially: “Big party, eh! Come on and have some 
breakfast.” 



Part Two 


150 


•Hal washed his face, and without thinking anything of 
it borrowed Merko’s razor. It occurred to him that he 
had left his tennis racket and overnight bag at the Olym- 
pic Club. The hotel people were probably thinking that 
he had skipped. Perhaps they_hgd impounded his clothes. 
It didn’t matter. He had a strange, free feeling of being 
on a holiday. He splashed on some of Merko’s shaving- 
lotion, and yelped with pain. It had obviously been made 
to test the man who used it. The lotion seemed to put 
flames to his skin, yet as soon as he came into the kitchen 
he had a pulsing, happy face, and he was starting to feel 
fine. 

“Drink up,” Merko commanded. 

Hal found that he was confronted with a cold, black, 
glistening bottle of beer, and that he was laughing and 
drinking at this wrong time of day. Beer for breakfast, 
it turned out, was just the thing. He had another botde 
with his scrambled eggs. Merkw washed the dishes and 
went outsidte, and Hal realized that they had not spoken 
since he sat down to breakfast. Yet their silence had not 
been strained. All tension between them had disappeared, 
as if during the time they slept they had unconsciously 
become friends. 

He went outdoors, expecting to find Merko, but his 
host was nowhere to be seen. He walked about the hill- 
top, among the boulders. The birds were gone. It was 
absolutely quiet. The faintest of breezes played over the 
arrested landslide. He felt a marvelous clarity in the day. 
He was not afraid of life here, because there was only 
Merko. There was no need to adjust to him, and besides 
it was impossible. How could he centralize himself to a 



15* 


xxi Hal and Merko 


madman who had broken away from the very reflexes bf 
mankind and set up his own nervous system? 

He thought: ‘Should I try to imitate him?’ It was 
against nature. He and Merko were brothers in their 
oppositeness. Perhaps eackhad found the only friend he 
coiHd possibly have. The one Just Like Everybody Else 
and the other Like Nobody Else were in perfect equi- 
librium. Now he would make no attempt to centralize 
Merko, who in turn would not use will power on him, 
and they would have a few hours on a hilltop until, for 
no reason, they went their separate ways. 

He heard shouts below. They were childish voices, 
and he remembered the little girl they had passed in front 
of the cabin. Presently he saw what looked like the back 
of an elephant bobbing up the hill. It was the sack full of 
coins, with Merko gritting his teeth under it. Merko 
flung his load among the rocks. His crimson face was 
expressionless. He was dfetermined not to breathe hard 
after his climb, and avoided this weakness, Hal saw, by 
refusing for the moment to breathe at all. 

They sat down on the cobblestoned terrace, drinking 
again. Merko still kept on his head the handkerchief rolled 
into a sort of turban he had worn during his climb. He 
reminded Hal, despite the menial headpiece, of a sahib, 
perhaps because he drank his gin and lemon juice with 
an elegant air and said rather precisely: “I like you better 
today. You have a face.” 

“What did I have yesterday?” Hal laughed. 

“Nothing! Just a blank space. That’s because you agree 
with everybody. Don’t think I didn’t see you in town, 
wheiwthey were throwing money at me. I looked around 



Part Two 


152 


the crowd, and I saw this empty area under a hat. It was 
your face, but there was nothing in it. Do you know 
that? Do you know what’s going to happen to you?” 

“I’D be happy, Merko.” 

The little man laughed, and, drank some more gin. 

“Well, what is going to happen to me?” Hal asked, an- 
noyed by this attitude. 

Merko shook his head. “I won’t tell you.” 

“You’D never be happy, Merko.” 

“I spit on happiness. I rise above it!” said Merko, ob- 
viously not doing so. He tried to speak haughtily from 
his deck chair, but remained a lonely Uttle fellow in a 
turban. 

“You’re just Uke that girl,” Hal said. 

“What girl?” 

“The one I met yesterday at the Olympic Club. You’re 
both too proud. You won’t give in to anything, and so 
you’re miserable.” 

“What won’t a girl give into?” 

Hal told him about Joan Vigoro. As soon as he men- 
tioned that she was a high-jumper, Merko put down his 
glass of gin and listened closely. “They didn’t want her 
to run fast, eh?” he chuckled. He scowled on hearing 
that all the athletes had turned their backs on her, and 
disagreed fiercely when Hal denounced her stubbornness. 

“What do y ou mean!” he interrupted. “Now there’s a 
girl-” 

“Yes, but look what it’s done to her. She’s given up 
everything, and she’s going to be the mail-order bride of 
an old man.” 

“What!” shouted Merko, leaping from his chair. “Well, 



xn Hal and Merko 


154 

then, she's weak. Otherwise die wouldn’t do that. I knew 
it!” He picked up his gin glass and flung it into the 
valley. 

But later he suggested: “When you go back to town. 
I’ll help you sell some insurance to those people over at 
that Olympic Club you were talking about.” It would 
be on his way, Merko explained, because this evening he 
was going to see about performing on an upraised draw- 
bridge in East Riverton. 

They starred off down the hill to the place where 
Merko left his motorcycle. There was no sound from the 
cabin surrounded with pine cones where they had met 
tRe little girl. Some distance across the meadow Hal 
caught sight of a group of people struggling toward them. 

“There he is,” said Merko. “Now you’ll see what I 
mean.” 

The approaching unii was a family — father, mother, 
and four children. 

“Don’t speak to ’em. Just keep going,” Merko growled. 

The man and wife walked hand in hand. She was gaz- 
ing up at him adoringly. He could hardly keep up with 
her because the children were climbing all over him. Hal 
recognized the little girl of the day before wrapped 
around her father’s leg. Two equally golden-headed crea- 
tures dragged at his arms. Another swung on his neck. 
He hobbled along, with only one leg free. Rearing above 
the tender, clinging bodies, he was huge and lithe. His 
hair was black, and he had a magnificent corded neck. 
At one time he must have had a romantic hawk face, but 
now it had gone somewhat to flesh. His eyes were weary. 



Part Ttoro f54 

Hi saw Merko, and made a noticeable attempt to 
straighten up. But the children, apparently sensing his 
effort, bore clowif harder on him with merry shouts. 

He began smiling apologetically, from yards away. His 
little blonde wife gave Merko. a look of entreaty. But 
Merko gave them nothing. He wouldn’t look at them. 

“Hi, Uncle Merko, <vhere you goin’?” called his tiny 
girl friend, and he answered, scowling: “To Riverton, 
youngster,” and passed them without breaking stride. 

“Who is that?” Hal asked. 

“Laocoon!” Merko laughed harshly. “Laocoon Smith.” 

“That’s a peculiar name.” 

“His name is Dudley. He used to climb with me.” 

“He looks as if he wanted you to forgive him for 
something.” 

“Of course he does,” said Merko, “but I won’t forgive 
him. What’s the good of it? You can’t change history. He 
didn’t measure up, that’s all, and he and I both know it. 
I could forgive him until I was black in the face, and the 
historical fact still would be that he went soft and left 
tpe, and broke up our act.” 

“Why did he go soft?” 

“As you see.” 

“Well . . .” Hal looked back. “I see he’s got a beauti- 
ful wife there, and four — ” 

“A ruined m^.i,” said Merko. “Fat-assed, entwined in 
children. That’s all that’s left of him now. But you 
should have seen him when he first came to me.” 

Merko spat on the grass. Dudley Smith, he said. A 
young gymnast just out of college, he had seen Merko 
aloft one afternoon and come to him, begging to fy? ap- 



155 xxi Hal and Merko 

prendced. He felt that there was more to life than swing- 
ing on parallel bars. 

In the classic manner of the master vis-i-vis the neo- 
phyte, Merko was dour and discouraging: “It’s tough, 
thankless practice . . . mpnths of slaving in a gym . . . 
unlearn everything you ever knew.” But the boy insisted. 
Merko took him on, proudly watched him develop, never 
gave him a word of praise. Only when he remained silent 
was he satisfied. 

Eventually they made a great team, did hand-balancing 
acts from mile-high cornices. Young Smith became the 
idol of high-school and college girls in every public 
square. Merko knew this was poison, and warned his 
protege that women were the enemies of all dedicated 
men. The boy pietended to agree, but “I could see his 
eyes wandering.” One day Merko came upon him in a 
drugstore booth. A fragile little blonde was stroking his 
hair and talking earnestly to him. 

That afternoon they were to dangle from some gar- 
goyles. The boy faltered. His teeth were chattering. A 
gale was blowing on them, all the better for swinging, 
but the boy stared at a tiny blond head far below. “It's 
too wi-windy!” he stammered. “Quit if you want to,” 
Merko said, and scornfully watched him crawl down. 
When he was near the ground, Merko tossed a fluttering 
white handkerchief after him, and — although they had 
places on the same hillside near Riverton — never spoke to 
him again. “Now he’s a building-inspector,” Merko said 
to Hal. “Imagine it. He checks buildings for safety. They 
come up here on their days off to try and make up with 
me, but I’ll never let them!” 


F 



Part Two 


156 


‘‘You blame her?” asked Hal, feeling sorry for Laocoon 
Smith. 

“Well, it wasn’t her fault. She was bom a weak woman 
and couldn’t change. It was his lookout. He got what he 
deserved, all right. There was a softness in him. He didn’t 
really want to climb. He picked a weak and clinging 
woman because he had to hive delicacy,” Merko said in 
a mincing tone, indicating this quality with his thumb 
and forefinger. 

“It’s too bad she came along.” 

“Somebody else would have. Besides, history isn’t in- 
terested in excuses why a building isn’t climbed. If you 
don’t make it, you don’t, and it’s your fault. Yours , ” 
Merko emphasized. “A stomach-ache is your fault. If a 
manhole cover blows off, sails up ten stories, and decapi- 
tates you in an elevator, it’s your fault.” 

“You know, a man could still climb,” Hal thought 
aloud, “if his wife left him alone — if she knew how to 
take care of herself.” 

“A strong one,” Merko agreed enthusiastically. Then 
his face darkened. He was thinking of his mother. 

' Hal said: “I mean a girl who’s different — more like a 
companion.” 

“That’s it! A real companion. You know, clean. None 
of this . . .” Merko groaned. “If I had the luck to meet 
someone who didn’t want the soft side of love.” He gave 
Hal a wild, questioning stare. “Hey? Gin you imagine a 
girl like that? Can you?” 

“They say there’s a girl for everybody,” Hal answered, 
as they reached the motorcycle. 

On the way back to town the landscape and the day 



xxi Hal and Merko 


157 

seemed to grow softer in outline. Hal’s thoughts became 
softer and less distinct. He replied to Merko with remote 
smiles. Merko and his problems lost importance, now that 
they were returning to the world. The main thing, he 
thought happily and indifferently, was to pick up his 
belongings and catch the bus for Boston. 

Merko’s arrival made a sensation at the Riverton Olym- 
pic Gub. Tim Ashbum was not there, but Big Dick 
Trent, Fred Watt, and the others wanted an introduction 
to “the guv who licked Lumpy Modoc.”. They sur- 
rounded him with worshipful questions. How did he 
train? Did he have a special diet? Soft-legged girls in 
shorts pressed on him admiringly. To all of them he 
muttered: “Pleased to meetchu,” and rammed his hands 
deeper in his pockets. He made a fierce, pleading sign to 
Hal, who pointed to the high-jumping pit. 

At that moment Joafc Vigoro with her long legs out- 
flung went soaring over the bar, and Merko, gazing over 
the heads of the athletes, gasped and turned pale. She 
arose from the soft earth, her dark, sorrowful counte- 
nance quickly turned away from the crowd, and returned 
to her take-off point. There she hung her head, and 
seemed to be musing on the end of her life, but suddenly 
gathered her strength and ran and jumped again in a 
desperately unhappy flight over the long stick of balsa 
wood. 

Merko started walking toward her like a zombi. The 
crowd of athletes respectfully stepped aside, as did Hal, 
to see what would happen. But nothing happened. The 
two simply stared at one another, like two children meet- 



Part Two 


mg 'for the first time in the park. Merko flexed his hands. 
The bitter, shamefaced girl refused him the slightest 
greeting. Yet they couldn’t go away from each other 
either. Seeing this, Hal ran up and introduced them. They 
clasped hands and backed off again. 

Hal started to leave them, but Merko clutched him, 
saying: “No!” 

“What’s the matter?” 

Slowly Joan Vigoro turned away and went back to the 
jumping-pit. 

“What’s the matter with you?” 

“I can’t! Not yet. She’s clean all right, but I’ve got to 
take my time. Stick with me!” Merko whispered. 

“You’d better hurry. Remember, she’s a mail-order 
bride,” said Hal. 

“Stick with me!” 

“I’m going to get my stuff, and then check out of the 
hotel.” 

“Why?” d'emanded Merko, trembling as Joan went 
over the bar again. 

“I’ve got to get back to Boston,” Hal said. He didn’t 
know why, except that it was the appropriate thing to do. 
He had a fiancee there and a business. He lived at the 
Grcle Hotel. And now that they had come down from 
the hilltop, Merko seemed just like any other unimportant 
human being — especially since the sight of a girl had 
made him lose his power. 

“When are you coming back?” 

He might need to go up on the hilltop again. “Soon,” 
Hal promised. “Maybe in a month or so.” 

“We’re palsl” 



159 


xxn July in Boston 


“Right Keep after her now." 

They were engulfed in athletes again, and Hal slipped 
away. Before reaching the clubhouse, he heard a harsh 
voice explaining to the crowd: “Punish yourself! Whip 
yourself! One slip and you’re through!” 


Chapter XXII July in Boston 

Boston Common was a meadow full of 
pretty girls offering themselves to the sun.. The great 
medicine ball was blazing away everybody’s imperfec- 
tions. Now and then a broad belt of wind moved across 
the field. The shape of each gust could be followed by 
lines of bright fluttering dresses and tumbled hair. In a 
rippling pattern, dozens of small white arms came up to 
smooth and pat the hair. Meanwhile the wind hit some 
underbrush, rushed through the trees, kicked up dust on 
the far baseball diamond, and then had not, it seemed, 
ever existed, except that the sun felt a bit hotter than 
before. 

The few men on the Common were a drab breed. 
There was something of the barnyard about them. Their 
shirts were stained. The sleeves flapped on their fore- 
arms. Rose wasn’t afraid of them, as she used to be. 
Rather she felt sorry for them because they were so un- 
attractive. She herself had changed. Soon her boy with 
the slanted hat would be home. 

The last Hal had seen of her (since, after it was over 
in the room, they had kept the lights off) she had been a 
pinched little stick of a girl, anxious and ugly. Nowf 



Part Two 1$0 

altHbugh she still weighed one hundred and twelve, she 
didn't feel thin any more. There was a more womanly 
tint to her 'flesh. Her arms were no longer pale and 
bony, but delicately tanned and fuller and softer. Jfit 
would be amazed at the improvement. 

There was a burst of melody near by, and a trembling 
tenor voice sang out of 'violins: “The very birds do cry!” 
She arched her back, leaning on her braced arms. Then 
she became aware of the tentative boy ambling around 
her in circles with a self-conscious smile, drawing a bit 
closer with each circuit he made. He carried a portable 
radio. Nodding to her, he turned the volume down. 

He was a slight, weak-looking boy with a long face and 
comically hollow eyes. His straw-colored hair stuck up 
in spikes, evidence of the desperate applications of vase- 
line that had kept it in place in front of the mirror — 
only to have it spring up again after he had taken two or 
three steps. A brown sport shfrt revealed his feeble, 
freckled arms. On the most beautiful day in July his face 
was pale and shiny and sad, and he said: “I’ve seen you 
around." 

This forlorn confidence made her laugh. Out of habit 
she was about to snap back: “Well, isn’t that a thrill,” 
when she remembered that she didn’t have to be sarcastic 
any more. 

“I’ve been watching you,” the boy stated. The radio in 
his hand was still going. The announcer said faintly: 
“Now Art Christian wants to know ‘How High the 
Moon?’ ” before he was switched off. 

“I even know your name,” the boy continued in a 
humble sing-song, in which there was also a note of 



*14 xxn July in Boston 

yokel pride. “Your name is Rose. You know houf I 
know it? I stood under your window — I mean, your 
office window. I work in the same building you do, did 
you know that? In the clinic. I sweep the floors. I heard 
him call you Rose.” 

“She looked at this adolescent who had waited under 
her window, not sure whether to be angry or touched, or 
perhaps a bit worried. Finally she decided not to care, 
and to be gentle with him. 

“I never thought I’d get up the nerve to speak to you,” 
he said. 

“Well, it’s perfectly all right,” she answered. “It’s very 
nice, but I don’t think you’d better — ” 

“Why not?” said the boy earnestly. “What I mean, us 
lonely people ought to get together.” 

“What!” cried Rose. “Who’s lonely? What do you 
mean by saying that? My fiance is coming back next 
week.” This was so humiliating. Her feeling of grace and 
prettiness vanished. All mercy gone, she stormed at him: 
“Go away! Get away from here.” 

He stared at her, pathetic and round-eyed, unaware 
that he had committed the greatest slander, and mum- 
bled: “Gee, I didn’t know.” 

“And you had better try to take better care of your 
appearance,” she said coldly, realizing that he had done 
riie best he could to no avail. She added half-heartedly: 
“Look at your shoes.” 

At this the boy stumbled away. His grief-stricken 
manner appalled her. She had never really hurt anyone 
like this. She called after him: “Wait!” But he would not. 
She followed after him, saying: “Please!” 



Part Two 


162 


‘‘You’ll never see me again,” he said. As she tried once 
more to say she was sorry, the radio roared out Art 
Christian’s (arrangement of “Poor Little Buttercup.” 

On the way back to her office^jRose stopped and gazed 
unbelievingly at someone on the comer of Charles and 
Beacon. ‘It can’t be. He’s not supposed to be back until 
next week,’ she said to herself. But the slim, vague figure 
and the slanted hat were unmistakable. 

“Hal!” she called, and ran toward him. The young 
man paid no attention to her. “Hal.” Of course it was he. 
She thought so until she stepped in front of him and 
looked tenderly into the eyes of a perfect stranger. “Oh, 
excuse me'” she said. “I thought you . . .” 

“. . . were someone else.” The young man nodded 
pleasantly. He was shorter and heavier than Hal, and 
his features were quite different. Yet in his general ap- 
pearance he had been Hal’s double. Even his voice was 
the same, as* was his courteous and faraway manner. 

“It’s love,” Gladys said, “when you start mistaking 
other fellows for him.” 

“Have you had that with Johnny 5 ” 

Gladys gave a short laugh. “Who looks like that big 
ape?” 

She had been depressed since spending the week with 
Heffeman at the sawmill. Her exuberance was fitful. 
She accepted few dates, mostly occasional suppers with 
Jack Swan, the public-relations man, who didn’t count. 
Lately she had been bringing home stacks of women’s 
magazines. During much of her free time she lay around 



* 103 xrai September and Business Love-Making 

the apartment reading the love stories and scoring her- 
self on such quizzes as “Are You a Good Marriage 
Risk?” Twice for no reason at all she had decided not 
to go to work. In bed, she ate prodigious quantities of 
apples and stared out the window. 

« Rose felt sure that things must have gone wrong in 
Maine. When she asked about it, Gladys only murmured 
something insulting about the football-player. 


Chapter XXIII Plans for September and 

Business Love-Making 

In Arcadia Life’s reception room, Jack 
Swan threw his cigarette away. He was more nervous 
than usual before going in to see Purdy. Today he was 
supposed to deliver hi^memo on publicity for the con- 
vention in September. It wasn’t ready, and he knew why. 

Gladys was responsible. ‘From now on I’ll stop kid- 
ding myself,’ he swore with bitter resolve. His futile 
obsession with this big blonde was going to ruin him. \t 
the office the younger fellows who worked for him were 
beginning to wonder. He showed up late for confer- 
ences. He didn’t finish his memos. When he was caught 
in the wrong, he tried to yell his way out of it. There was 
no way to explain his miserable situation to anyone. 

If he could make people understand that he wasn’t 
slipping, but sick, sick with her. She was in his dreams, 
but that was nothing. Her big white breasts and shoul- 
ders pushed into his mind during conferences. They 



Part Two 


164 


interrupted his creative flow and scattered his memos. 
They even hampered his attempts to fulfill his weekly 
obligation ttf his wife. And all this time he wasn't getting 
any satisfaction from her. The one time she jumped him, 
he ran. “I’m sick," he groaned; cursing his unman- 
ageable sexuality. 

Now he had to fake some excuse to keep Purdy off his 
neck a little while longer. The agency-director was look- 
ing at a copy of The Arcadian, the company magazine 
that came out twice a month. “Our friend Hingham is 
back. He was just here,” he said. 

“Fine! When can I talk to him?" Swan had been 
interested in The Hingham Story since the day he heard 
about it. He hadn’t immediately connected the name 
with that of the dud who went around with Gladys’s 
roommate. When it did turn out this way, he wasn’t 
surprised. Fate apparently intended him to hang around 
that apartment. He saw a story ih Hingham’s metamor- 
phosis, and was eager to get at it. 

“You can talk to him if you want to, but our prodigy 
is jn pretty bad shape," said Purdy. “He’s white and thin. 
His eyes are big and hollow — ” 

“No wonder, after what he did in Bradford.” 

“He’s more than tired. He looks — 1 can’t explain it. 
For instance, he almost passed out when I showed him 
this.” 

It was a cartoon in The Arcadian. The drawing, spread 
over two pages, depicted the company’s leading salesmen 
in the garb of track stars — runners entering the home 
stretch. In the third position was Hal Hingham, but his 
figure was treated differently from the others. The artist 



* 145 antra September and Business Love-Making 

had placed clouds of dust under his heels, and he albne 
was shaded. An arrow indicated him as the Dark Horse. 

“Hingham was upset, you say?” 

"He acted like a road-company Hamlet. He took me 
by the wrist, and sort of held on to me, and shook his 
head, and gave me these pitiful sighs — ” 

“Fred!” interrupted Swan. Like that, his troubles were 
over. He had the idea he was supposed to bring into 
Purdy’s office. “Let me tell you — if he’s handled right, 
Hingham can be the feature, or at least one of the fea- 
tures, of our convention publicity.” 

He commenced speaking in the friendly but author- 
itative tone of the public-relations scientist explaining 
his world to a stranger. 

“Most people are getting pretty blas6 about publicity. 
If you really want to get noticed, the stereotyped insti- 
tutional approach won’t do any more. Of course, I’ll get 
the space for the convention. We’ll put out the usual 
institutional stuff, but this year let’s go beyond that. 
Personalize the company,” Swan said, “and here’s where 
Hingham comes in.” 

“But you heard me say, Hingham is — ” 

“Just hear me through, Fred. Let’s build the conven- 
tion around that great American legend, the Success 
Story. Hingham in his peculiar way is a modem Horatio 
Alger. Now, since the Alger concept is outmoded, we’ll 
work in a psychiatric interpretation, like Freud. Re- 
member Hingham’s stem, old-fashioned father. Like 
father, unlike son. It’s new! 

“The obstacle facing the modem Horatio Alger is not 
the cold, cruel world, but the cold, cruel father. He wins 



Part Two 


1*6 

thfc battle by freeing himself from his father’s domina- 
tion, which has prevented him from becoming a success. 
We’ll get a psychiatrist to say — individual enterprise 
triumphs over neurosis. It’s a perfect Prodigal Son situa- 
tion.” 

“Wait a minute,” said Purdy. “I enjoy your impu- 
dence, but it has nothing to do with the Prodigal Son.” 

“Yes, it has,” Swan contradicted him surely. He had 
never felt so strong in Fred Purdy’s presence. “Hingham 
transferred his father image to you, and came back to 
you — or, better! The company takes over the father role. 
Hingham returns home with the fatted calf, and he’s 
forgiven and celebrated for that amazing selling job at 
Bradford.” 

“You certainly know how to corrupt the Bible.” 

“What does it matter!” cried Swan in delight at his 
own ingenuity. “The point is, I’ve got something.” 

Fred Purdy shook his head. “What I don’t understand. 
Swan — you’ve probably never read the Bible, or Freud, 
or Horatio Alger, but still you have the effrontery to 
combine them — and it’s not a bad idea.” 

Swan kept his eye on the ball. “Do you approve, Fred? 
I’ll bang out a memo right now. You can send it to the 
home office tonight.” 

“You realize, don’t you, that Hingham isn’t the top 
man yet? Maybe he won’t be.” 

“That’s all right. We can always juggle the statistics. 
He’s probably sold more over a shorter period — that’s it. 
Create a special citation. Hingham sold more in less 
time — ” 

“Write your memo, Swan. You can do it in the con- 



‘ H7 xxin September and Business Love-Making 

ferencc room,” the client said. “Remember, thoii^h, 
this boy is highly nervous. If you make him a center of 
attraction, with interviews and all that, he’ll need care- 
ful handling.” 

“There isn’t a man ■v ho can’t be handled,” said Swan 
gilmdly. 

“Suppose we make Hingham your personal respon- 
sibility.” 

“Fine with me,” answered Swan, as he went into the 
conference room. He was lighthearted again, and full of 
confidence 

“The New York office is on my tail about this, you 
realize,” Purdy said from the door. 

Looking up from his typewriter, Swan felt so good 
that he couldn’t resist putting a small needle into the 
client. “What’s the matter, Fred? You’re secure. The 
securest man I know.” 

He envied the way Rirdy could smile and let it pass, 
because it was true. 

Fred Purdy left the elevator boy laughing, but it 
wasn’t until he stepped out into the street that he real- 
ized he was the butt of his own joke. Somebody beat him 
to a cab. He signaled to another, and missed it. He stood 
on the corner, inhaling the heat and fumes of the street. 
It was an effort to breathe. He felt a sweet sickness in 
the atmosphere. Normally he would have laughed over 
it. Today an incident had disturbed him, and he was 
hard put to rejoice in the corruption of the very air. 

“Let’s talk over your proposition at breakfast,” George 
Escrow had said. “That’s the best time for me.” 



Part Two 


1 # 8 * 

Breakfast! He told this to the elevator boy, partly in 
return for a special service — the Purdy Express from the 
eighth floon. The elevator dropped with amazing slow- 
ness. Through the open grillwork he watched the great 
coil of cables advancing up the^ shaft. “I tell you,” he 
said to his already grinning listener, “next thing you 
know people will be^doing business while they make 
love.” 

Breakfast! He recovered himself with savage good 
humor to ask: why not? It was perfectly logical. He had 
long ago become used to transacting business at lunch. 
He found it only mildly insane to be eating, smoking, 
drinking a martini, and talking in one simultaneous oper- 
ation. The irony of this was worn, and not worth men- 
tioning. And how about the club luncheons, and com- 
pany banquets, and smokers 3 He had not revolted against 
them. 

He had built his view of life' on these splendid per- 
versions. Without them his malice would collapse, and 
so would he. The good life was one sale after another. 
The man who let his mind wander ran the risk of 
glimpsing the enormous meaninglessness of his career. 
How often he counseled the younger salesmen to “get 
lost, drown yourselves” in it. Although he mocked their 
innocent faces, he wasn’t entirely kidding. It was their 
only hope, really, to believe that salesmanship was all 
of life — because then it would become so. 

Why then did the idea of having breakfast tomorrow 
with George Escrow disturb him? The business breakfast 
would be only one more perversion. His objection, he 
supposed, came from a feeling of lost dignity — of being 



• 169 xxiii September and Business Love-Making 

goosed around by commerce, and becoming simply an 
agent in place of a person. He remembered imagining 
that he belonged to his desk like a cowboy to his horse, 
“like you belong to this elevator,” he added to the 
momentarily sobered boy. 

♦jYou had to rest from continually laughing in self- 
defense. How? He could get drunk, but not alone, and 
somehow all his drunks turned into business drunks. 
“There’s no privacy any more,” he complained to the 
elevator boy. He thought of his business golf games, the 
poker and bridge games, the outings, picnics, and holi- 
day get-togethers of company personnel. He hammered 
on it gleefully. Business Thanksgivings and Christmases, 
business carols and benedictions. People selling presents 
around the ChrLtnus tree. Business worship! 

“Yes,” he repeated to the boy, “the next thing will be 
business love-making.” 

“I always prefer to deal with an established firm,” 
Fred Purdy declared tenderly. 

The real-estate woman smiled coldly at this tribute, 
but he knew what he was doing. 

“Now that your divorce has come through,” he pointed 
out, “you need protection more than ever.” 

This approach immediately brought them closer to- 
gether. Now he understood why she had stalled him 
before. His pitch had been too ardent. Where business 
and pleasure met, there was no room for sentiment. 
She bought him, and would eventually buy the policy if 
he didn’t overplay his hand. She had weaknesses, things 
she liked. He touched a soft spot, jokingly: “You’re 



Part Two 17Q, 

uncovered in so many unsuspected places. Let me show 
you.” 

“Yes,” shet murmured impatiently. “Go on! Go on!” 

He made his moves, and spoke of love and its obliga- 
tions — to take care of dear ones. 

“Oh, hurry up! Come on, convince me!” she cried, 
and flung out her cold v soft arms in a derisive gesture. 
He knew her now. It was just a matter of pinning her 
down. He braced himself, to get a purchase. 

“Okay — ” he grinned — “let’s get down to cases.” 

If marble could suddenly become soft and malleable, 
this was the way she yielded to him. He didn’t repeat his 
mistake of becoming serious. There was a terrible cold- 
ness about her that no sympathy could dissipate, but, 
cold to cold as they were, they struck a spark, and it 
seemed to leap into her eyes. Flinty, passionate glances 
excited him beyond any measure he had counted on. 

‘I’m playing the game! I’m taking it all the way!’ he 
exulted. He was going to violate everything with this 
beady-eyed woman. He felt all the gods in heaven look- 
ing down on him in horror. Hanging on desperately, 
he ''gripped the disordered sheets. 

“What’s that?” she demanded, seizing one of them, 
and pointing to the italicized clause at the bottom. 

“The indemnity — provision.” With an effort, he 
showed her the explanatory paragraph in the booklet. 
They went on browsing through the pages together. 

And now she began to pick up on the whole deal, and 
her comprehension came faster and faster. He had the 
answers before she could bring the questions to bear 
on him, and then he advanced again, always stronger. 



* 171 rnv Deserted by Dr. Modesto 

Her scornful eyes told him to close out the proposition, 
and he did, and he did. If this was hell, he felt no pain. 
If this was hell, it was the best hell. Their hands clasped, 
and they cried out simultaneously: “It’s a deal!” 


Chapter XXIV Deserted by Dr. Modesto 

The desk clerk at the Circle Hotel smiled 
and said there was no mail for him. 

“Are you sure — nothing 5 No telegram or phone call 
from Broad View, Nebraska?” Hal asked. 

“No, sir.” 

The news stunned him. He couldn’t believe that Dr. 
Modesto would leave him alone in the world. He went 
up to his room and sat down on the bed without bother- 
ing to unpack. Was there no forgiveness for the Cen- 
tralist who made one mistake 5 He wondered what 
happened to a fallen Centralist. Did he fly off into the 
void, unblessed, unloved because he couldn’t get through 
to people? 

He telephoned Rose, and it was the same. 

“Hal, it’s been so long.” 

“Yes, it sure has.” 

There followed silences that they kept breaking with 
desultory exclamations of happiness. It was an exchange 
of dead love, for she was as much a stranger to him as 
the hotel clerk. Yet tonight he was to tell her again that 
he wanted to marry her. 



Part Two 


172 • 


Wont of all was the moment at Arcadia Life when 
Fred Purdy shook hands with him and opened up the 
magazine to, his picture. He gazed in absolute horror at 
the cartoon of him in track shorts. He felt like a criminal 
who has seen his picture in the p9?t office. Here was the 
evidence of his crime in Bradford for thousands of readers 
to see. Someone woulc^ surely report it to Dr. Modesto. 
Perhaps he already knew. Hal held on to Fred Purdy’s 
hand and tried to explain that he was in trouble and must 
go into hiding. He succeeded only in stammering and 
being agreeable. 

“Mr. Purdy, please — it’s great. . . .” 

The conformist struggled to express his lost self, but 
he had forgotten how. 

“If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to— thank you. . . .” 

All he could do was shake hands in agonized cheer- 
fulness. He went out, feeling his way down the walls of 
the corridor. He had a sudden losging to be with Merko. 
Merko might teach him how to be himself again. 

He grasped at the chance that Dr. Modesto had not 
seen his letter. An assistant might have kept it from him. 
He bought a strip of post cards, scribbled “Forgive Me” 
and “Help Me” on the back of Paul Revere and the Tea 
Party, and mailed them from different post boxes to 
Broad View, Nebraska. 



* 173 zxv The Love-Date (2) 

Chapter XXV The Love-Date ( 2 ) 

Rose couldn’t stand the waiting. One mo- 
ment she came to rest on the arm of the couch, and the 
next she was at the window. He wasn’t due until eight, 
btgf might be early. In fact, she had the right to expect 
this from him. She leaned out the window, searching 
only for a figure that would be running toward the 
rendezvous. There was no such person in sight. She 
waited, braced against the sill until her arms ached, and 
then went back to the couch. 

On the radio, an instrumental callu" “Musical Chairs” 
was followed by “The Night shall be Filled with Love.” 
“If you need ready cash, here is all you have to do,” the 
announcer said. With six minutes to go, she turned it off 
and ran around fixing flowers. 

The doorbell rang thirty seconds early. She hung on 
the door while he climlsed the stairs. She dared look, and 
there he was in his slanted hat with the feather in the 
brim, offering her the long white box. 

“Hal!” 

“Hi there!” 

She rushed to kiss him and his arms fell softly around 
her shoulders. 

“Oh, I’ve missed you so much!” 

“Me too.” He laughed tenderly. “Get your coat on. 
We’re going to Childs’ Old France.” 

They were orchids like the last time. He studied her 
with a pleased air. She noticed how thin he was from 
working so hard. His eyes were huge and mild, and he 
was much too pale. But she would fatten him up, and 



Part Two 174 

get "him out in the sun. His hands shook when he helped 
her on with her coat. She regarded him coquettishly over 
her shoulder! and saw that he was dazed with happiness. 

In the taxi he told the driver: '‘Childs’ Old France, 
and make it snappy.” 

Thank God, it was the same. He hadn’t changed. She 
cuddled into him. Suddenly she was kissed hard on the 
mouth. She drew away in mock fear of his uncontrolled 
passion. The taxi swerved, and he called out to the 
driver: “Look out! I’ve got a valuable piece of property 
here. The girl I’m going to marry.” 

“You gettin’ married, eh 5 ” 

“Yes,” he said, “so watch out, watch out. This is my 
girl.” 

Something in Hal’s words troubled her. Perhaps it was 
the way he spoke — in a faraway sing-song. They crossed 
the railroad budge at Huntington Avenue. An engine 
passed beneath them and sent a vQlley of steam into the 
night. His fine profile moved against the cloud. He 
turned to her. His smiles came and went as if they were 
produced by wind currents. 

n You don’{ know how I love you,” he said, and kissed 
her. 

Her hands felt cold in her lap. She thought: ‘I mustn’t 
dream this.’ 

At Childs’ he made a charming fuss with the waiters, 
and insisted on the same table. He arranged everything 
in a loud, smooth manner, but now she openly stared 
at him, unable to believe what she knew. 

“Hal . . 

He didn’t nqtice. He was waiting, she understood,, for 



475 xxv The Love-Date ( 2 ) 

her to go to the ladies’ room, like the last time. As* she 
moved among the tables, the band started to play. She 
powdered her nose in a dream in which she saw her dim 
drowned image wave nng in the glass. She was looking 
down into the bottoift of a pool that turned into a very 
dty martini. 

“Have aiiother.” 

“I can’t. I’ll get dizzy.” 

“I wish we could go on this same date forever, Rose.” 

The lobster came, but she couldn’t eat. She could 
only laugh, and reach for him and kiss him. across the 
table, as she had done the last time. 

“You don’t know. Rose, you just don’t know.” 

Now, she realized, he was going to request the rumba. 

She got up dazedly. “Hal, please . . .” 

There was a terrible sickness in his happy face. 

“May I have the honor, mademoiselle?” 

She had to stop hirfl, bring him back to life, but he 
swept her away into the identical dance. He whispered 
in her ear: “Every Friday, it will be like this.” She would 
have collapsed. He held her in the gentle arms of a 
cavalier, and said: “We’ll get out of here. All you need 
is a little fresh air.” 

He walked her to the comer and back, and she felt 
much better. She took courage and vowed: Til save 
him,’ although she couldn’t think of any way to do it. 

“I know a swell place.” He grinned. “The Sphinx 
Club. I have a certain question to ask you there.” 

“No, Hal.” 

He seemed not to hear, but repeated: “A swell place.” 

*!HaL darling. Listen, darling. I don’t want to go to 



Part Two 


\H 


the Sphinx. We mustn’t go, because you’re sick. I want 
you to go home and rest, and then — ” 

“Sick?” he scoffed good-naturedly. “I feel fine. When 
we get to the Sphinx, I want to ask somebody a certain 
question.” 

They stood under the sidewalk awning, swept by the 
headlights of cars turning the comer. Then Rose hit on 
it. She remembered the time when Gladys offered to get 
her a psychiatrist. “Hal, if a doctor tells you you’re sick, 
udll you believe him?” 

He shook his head. “I don’t see what’s wrong. Why 
can’t it be like this forever?” he asked in bewilderment. 

“It can be, dear. But it wouldn’t be fair to either of 
us to get married when you’re a little bit sick like this. 
You see, you’ve worked so hard. You’re nervously up- 
set, but the psychiatrist will know exactly what to do. 
And after you’ve rested, we can go ahead.” 

“I love y<ju also, Rose. Let’s ^o to your place,” he 
' said feebly. 

“You see, dear? The way you’re talking now— that’s 
all (i part of it.” 

In the end he allowed her to take him in a cab to the 
Circle Hotel. She kissed him. “Now, you get a good 
sleep,” she said. “I’ll phone you tomorrow about the 
doctor.” 

Seeing him walk meekly toward the hotel, she felt 
sad and guilty for treating him in this way. She' might at 
least have asked him to come home with her. The taxi 
had passed several blocks before she decided to go back 
after him. 

“Never mind. It’s easier to walk,” she told the driver. 



177 xxv The Love-Date ( 2 ) 

She hurried to the Circle Hotel, but found at the desk 
that he had not yet come in. ‘Where is he? Walking the 
streets!’ she thought in distress. Then she caught sight of 
him down the block, strolling along with his hands in 
his pockets. 

*Hal!” He went on his way. Catching up with him, 
she put her hand on his elbow, and cried out in dismay 
as a strange young man turned and greeted her. “Oh — 
you,” she exclaimed, although it wasn’t the young man 
she had mistaken for Hal before, but another one. He 
too, she saw on closer inspection, bore no real resem- 
blance to Hal, except in his vague, faraway manner. 

“Excuse me.” 

“Not at all.” He smiled, and tipped his slanted hat. 

Hal didn’t want to go to bed, and decided to take a 
walk on the Common. It was better in the dark. Couples 
were still pacing languidly along the paths. He heard a 
steady murmur of voices among the trees. The pinwheel 
by the fountain was a policeman’s billy. On all sides of 
this peaceful haunt were the twinkling lights of office 
buildings and hotels. No one could find him here. If they 
took too much notice of him, he could come here. He 
wandered around the frog pond, and remained bemused 
for a while by a pale curl of water dipping, it seemed, 
motionless and silent, into the pool. The voices drifted 
away. The lights in the office buildings went out, win- 
dow by window. 

Rose said he was sick. She was going to get a doctor 
for him. ‘Perhaps I am sick,’ he thought, ‘but I need 
somcpnt better than any doctor.’ Of course, and he had 



Past Two 1?8' 

softieone, the only one — Merko, who was like nobody 
else. Merko would understand, and tell him what to do. 

A great neon clock in the sky told him that he had 
time to catch the milk train to Riverton. He set out for 
the South Station. He felt more and more alive and like 
a person with every step he took toward his tough little 
friend. 


Chapter XXVI Joan and Merko 

The milk train arrived in Riverton shortly 
after sunrise. Hal had a cup of coffee at the station, and 
walked slowly across town toward the road that led to 
Merko’s hill. The morning air was cool and fresh. The 
new day and the prospect of seeing Merko made him 
feel cheerful and clear-headed. Perhaps, he thought, 
Merko might invite him to share the hilltop, and he 
wouldn’t have to deal with the world any more. 

He passed by the grounds of the Olympic Club. The 
early-morning sun gave the greensward an amber tint. 
The line of poplars at the end of the field was bathed in 
yellow. He glimpsed something like the flutter of a hand- 
kerchief or a small kite by the high-jumping pit. He saw 
that it was an athlete working out, a girl, Joan Vigoro. 

He shouted and waved to her. As he approached, she 
turned her back on him. She ran, leaped, and went up 
and over the crossbar, but she brushed it with her knee 
and it went rattling to earth. 

“Do you always work out at this time of the morning?” 
he asked. 



* 179 zxvi Joan and Merko 

“Oh, it’s you,” she said, in an unfriendly tone. “If you 
must know, this is my last day here.” 

She stood before him in white shorts and a black 
jersey. Her long legs were unexpectedly full in the 
thighs. She was a deep-breasted girl, and her figure 
seemed heavier and more settled than before. He was 
not surprise! when she said despondently, more to her- 
self than to him: “It’s a good thing I’m quitting. I can’t 
even get over five feet any more.” 

“Where are you going, Joan?” 

“To Rorkton, to my husband-to-be. Wou}d you like 
to know who he is? Mr. Homer Schmitt, the ugliest old 
man I could find in the mail-order catalogue. He’s a 
kennel-keeper. He lives in Rockton. Would you like to 
see his picture?” She found the photograph in her purse. 
“I meet his requirements!” she laughed shrilly, handing 
it to Hal. 

Homer Schmitt was*a crafty, snaggle-toothed man of 
at least fifty-five. He leered out of the picture in a know- 
ing manner. 

“He wants a strong girl to fetch and carry for him. 
A girl ‘without airs,’ he says. I sent him a picture of rrfy- 
self carrying a pipe and slippers'” 

“Why did you do it 11 ” asked Hal. “Did you have to go 
so — ” 

“What difference does it make 5 ” she demanded bit- 
terly, throwing her coat over her shoulders. Since no man 
in Riverton would have her, she deliberately offered 
herself at random. Now she would don her smock and 
take the vows of drudgery. She would rejoice as the 
elasticity went out of her muscles. 



Part Two 


180 


“That’s what you expect of women,” she declared, 
continuing with tearful sarcasm. “We should follow the 
man with a' broom and dustpan in our hands. That’s 
our job.” Very well then, no more leaping. No more 
vying with the boys in sawdust pks. As quickly as she 
could, she would become old, until her body and mind 
were bowed and thickened by the accumulated weight 
of trivial duties. And one day all the people of the town 
would be able to say, without a dissenter: “There goes 
Mrs. Homer Schmitt, a good woman.” 

“What happened with you and Merko? I’m going to 
see him now,” Hal said. 

Joan sat down on the grass and began to cry. “Why 
did he have to come along? And hang around, and make 
me think . . . ? Of course, I knew he didn’t like me. He 
was always scowling and looking away. He’d look at me 
and spit on the grass—” 

“That means he likes you,” Hal explained. 

Joan shook her head. “Then he’d walk away and talk 
with the fellows. They all do it. They watch me for a 
minute, and then make some excuse. . . . But what I 
hoped was, the way he kept staring — ” 

“You should have given him more of a chance.” 

“I did everything! Even yesterday,” Joan said. “I put 
my hand on his arm, and he jumped away as if I had a 
disease. Some of them were watching. They laughed at 
the way he reacted to me. What do you care?” She turned 
on Hal, and he felt her resentment of him because he 
was a man. 

“I’m going to see him now, and — ” 

“Leave me alone.” Joan eyed him with anger, and 



'HU xxvi Joan and Merko 

Hal felt that he was representing all mankind. “You*re 
all repulsive in your different ways. Well, in exactly one 
hour I'm leaving this town, and sports, and this mis- 
erable club. Tonight I’ll be in Rockton — engaged to 
the worst one of you $ could find in the catalogue, and 
that should satisfy everybody!” 

She picked*up her sweater and walked away from him. 

Hal trudged along the road to Merko’s hill. His only 
trips to and from there had been by motorcycle, and he 
had forgotten how far it was out of town. By noon he 
had walked several miles. He decided to sit down and 
rest. There was no hurry. It would be just as well to 
give Joan a head start before telling Merko where she 
was going. He needed Merko to help him, at least for a 
while. There would be no place for a woman on the 
hilltop. 

Hal dozed off. Wheft he awoke it was already two 
o’clock. The hill, it turned out, was only a few hundred 
yards farther on. He climbed it wearily, and found 
Merko on his hilltop of rocks, sitting on the cottage 
doorstep with his chin in his hands. Hearing footsteps, 
Merko stood up and craned his neck. He seemed dis- 
appointed to discover that it was Hal. 

“Aren’t you in the mood to see me?” Hal asked. 

“I’m all right. Come in,” said his friend, without 
enthusiasm. They went inside, and Merko brought out 
two bottles of beer, glasses, and large cork mats. “Mind 
you don't spill it. I’ve just polished the table,” he said. 

Hal was surprised by the change in Merko’s room. 
A pathetic attempt had been made to create an atmos- 



Part Two lfil 

phere of complacent bourgeois comfort Signs of dis- 
order had virtually disappeared. Instead, Merko had 
arranged ah interior of heavy stuffed chairs, with doilies 
and tablecloths everywhere, vases packed with flowers, 
bowls full of tropical fish, and pictures of children and 
flowers. He directed Hal to one chair away from the 
rugs, and placed a seashell ash tray beside him. 

Hal decided to go directly to the point. He pulled his 
chair close to the little man, and said: “Merko, I’ve come 
for help. Teach me how to be myself, the way you are.” 

Merko stared at the floor and didn’t reply. 

“Can’t you help me?” Hal asked timidly. 

“And I,” said Merko, “want to be more like other 
people.” 

They looked at one another without speaking. After 
a while they picked up their beers and went out among 
the rocks, which were already throwing long shadows 
down the hillside. 

“I saw Joan this morning,” Hal began. 

Merko groaned and swore a huge oath against women 
and their fickle minds. “Of course, I don’t care at all 
what she does. But she’s a clean girl and — I want to see 
her get the best,” he said in a loud, careless tone. 

Hal told him about Homer Schmitt. Merko walked in 
circles, grinding his teeth. “That’s the way they are!” he 
said. “Crush }our pride every time! After I offer my- 
self, she runs off to an old fleabag — ” 

“Offered yourself?” 

“Certainly I did.” Merko kicked at a boulder. “I gave 
her every chance to understand how I felt about her. 
I came out with direct hints.” 



"188 zxvi Joan and Merko 

Hal explained that Joan was completely unaware of 
any hints. 

“What do these crazy women want?” Merko de- 
manded, looking at Hal in amazement. “What’s a man 
supposed to tell them 5 *" 

••What did you tell her?” 

“Well,” said Merko, walking with his hands clasped 
behind him, “I didn’t get soft. That’s not my style. I 
said — more in actions than in words. Letting her know 
by using certain looks. You know. You look at some- 
body.” Merk'* glared at Hal. “If they’re on- the ball, 
they intercept it.” 

“You didn’t say anything to her?” 

“Yes, I did. Mostly under my breath, but she could 
have caught on if she were making the effort to listen. 
I said: ‘You’ve got good long muscles there, and a good 
style going over the bar.’ ” 

“You said that?” 

“Yes, and I told her: ‘I’d like to practice with you 
sometime.’ She said: ‘What?’ and I told her: ‘You heard 
me,’ and gave her a look" Merko scowled at the clouds. 
“She’s gone away,” he muttered. “It’s just as well I 
couldn’t have gone through with it anyway. I told you 
women weren’t my style. She’d wreck me, like they all 
do. It gets into your flesh. You get soft. Oh, she wasn’t 
that way. Her flesh was clean. 

“But* just the same I could see it in her. She’d sink 
into a biological condition like all the rest of them do 
when they get you married. Maybe you think I’m a 
hermit, but I’ve been around, and I know marriage 
doesn’t go with normal companionship. You have to 



Part Two 1-84 

. . What’s that got to do with real love? I loved her 

because she was too pure to touch.” 

Merko’s .face writhed. “Will that — old — lay his hands 
on her?” 

“If they’re married, I should«'think he would,” Hal 
said. 

“And she’d let him?” 

“Well, if they’re married . . .” 

“Impure!” Merko threw a shower of rocks into the 
valley. 

“Wait!” Hal said, caught up in Merko’s destiny. 
“Maybe she wouldn’t want to, but she’d be forced to.” 

Merko snorted. “She’d be strong enough to stop him 
if she really — •” 

“No, I mean forced by circumstances.” 

Merko brooded on this, then put his arms out to HaL 
“Go and see her. Tell her I’d throw myself at her feet — 
if she asked me. Walk up Niagara Falls against the 
water, keep driving after her anywhere, if she was 
trapped. There’s a mesa in the Grand Canyon, you tell 
her, and nobody’s ever been able to get to the top of it. 
1 would, if she was there. Anything.” 

“But why don’t you just tell her you love her?” 

Merko’s brow knotted in wrath and perplexity. He 
hammered the wall of his house. 

“She’s on the bus now. Going to him,” Hal said. 

“He’ll put his hands on her!” 

Hal nodded. 

“Let’s go!” Merko rushed out. He returned to grab a 
vase full of roses, and ran out again. He dragged Hal 



1^5 zxvi Joan and Merko 

down the hill to the motorcycle, and they roared off for 
Rockton. 

Hal rode in the sidecar and hung on while Merko 
gunned his black charger through the dark-gold waning 
afternoon across landscapes of southern New England. 
Apple orchards, stone walls, and fields of waving com 
fled past them. Dappled cows and dairy farms, red 
bams, rustic baseball games, billboards, gasoline sta- 
tions, speed-limit signs. Lions and Rotary Club signs. 
End of Restricted Zones, and more corn fields rushed 
toward them and vanished in a roar of wind, as they 
plunged on. It grew darker. The clouds flattened in the 
west and darkened. 

In the darkness ahead Hal saw the end of his life, 
when Merko would leave him. Glancing at his com- 
panion, who now wanted to abandon his hermitage and 
be like other people, he thought: ‘I could stop him.’ Yet 
he would not. On the contrary, he would help his friend 
escape from his own dark and empty future. He could 
no longer see Merko’s face, but felt in the fitful gunning 
and maneuvering of the motorcycle the little man’s fear 
of his first engagement with a woman. A succession of 
motels flashed by. Then came the floodlighted pennants 
of Rockton’s used-car lots, and they rolled into the city. 



Part Two 

Chapter XXVII Merko Makes It 


m 


They parked the motorcycle down the 
block and sneaked up on the kennel-keeper’s place. The 
dogs began barking. Hal shrank" from panting sounds 
near him in the dark, until he realized that they were 
coming from Merko. They crept past warm plants, in a 
summer jungle. Merko glanced apprehensively at the 
great overripe moon that seemed about to fall on the 
chimney of Homer Schmitt’s house. He plucked at Hal’s 
arm, and whispered: “What if — ?” 

“What?” 

“Shhh!” Merko writhed. He was walking on tiptoe 
although they were still some distance from the house. 
“What if they’re already — ?” 

“The lights are on downstairs,” Hal pointed out. 

With each step forward, the expression on Merko’s 
moonlit face became wilder and* more terrified. He still 
held his vase full of flowers, but gingerly, as though he 
might at any moment throw them down and run. They 
sneaked closer, trying to find an open window, but all 
die windows were shut against the summer night. Finally 
Hal drew Merko to a bright pane, and they peered into 
the living-room. 

Homer Schmitt was lording it in a big leather chair, 
with his slippe**-shod feet on a stool, 'cleaning an old 
musket. Beside him, a frowsy hound yawned at a pile of 
dirty laundry in the center of the room. 

“He’s going to shoot her!” 

“No, not with that muzzle!” Hal whispered. “It’s just 
an antique.” 



187 


xxvn Merko Makes It 


Merko gasped. Joan had just entered the room. Hfcr 
hair was tied up in ridiculously short pigtails. She stood 
before her husband-to-be in a painfully demure attitude, 
with her feet wide apart, eyes shyly lowered and her 
hands, already redderitd from what must have been 
seeding dishwater, clasped in the sodden folds of her 
apron. After & while the old man put down the gun and 
beckoned to her, pointing to the hassock beside his chair. 
The dog bristled and made room grudgingly. Joan sat 
down. Homer Schmitt stroked her hair, meanwhile eat- 
ing an apple and reading a newspaper. 

Merko had begun a rhythmic groaning. Hal steadied 
him, whispering: “It’s all right! It’s all right!” He was 
full of love for Merko in his distress. Merko’s agony 
was beautiful. Suffering became him so. It was what he 
was bom to do. Without malice, Hal longed for his com- 
rade-antagonist to suffer eternally. But then, the next 
moment, he felt a terriffie decency rising through these 
thoughts, saying: ‘He is your brother, help him,’ and 
he demurred: ‘No, and lose him forever,’ and the voice 
repeated: ‘Help him,’ and he turned toward this incredi- 
ble little man who had made his life worth living a while 
longer. 

He saw a coward. Merko fell groaning away from the 
window. 

The old man had yanked playfully at Joan’s pigtails. 
Repeating the act several times seemed to inspire him. 
With ungainly elation, he leaped across the room and 
threw the covers off a piano. He turned a knob and the 
instrument began twanging “Yes, Sir, She’s My Baby.” 
He snapped his fingers and made her cavort with him* 

G 



Part Two 189 

Hal was about to shut his eyes, when the old man tired. 

The old man stood back, signaling for Joan to dance 
alone. Now Hal could not watch. He saw Merko cring- 
ing in the bushes and suddenly, against his own interests, 
beckoned fiercely for him to get up and be a man. 

“I’m not yellow,” Merko said, as if reciting this fact 
to himself. “/’*« not yellow?’ 

‘‘What is it?” 

“If she wouldn’t expect me to touch her.” 

“But look what’s happening to her now,” Hal urged. 

Homer Schmitt was back in his chair, dozing, and 
Joan still danced by herself. Her arms fell in a limp V. 
Her hands joined in the soggy apron. She seemed to have 
no idea where she was. The dog barked. The old man 
stirred and woke to his dancing bride-by-mail. He leered 
at her and made excited motions, pointing to the door. 
Joan went out, and he rushed after her. 

“I think they’re going upstairs,” Hal reported. He 
heard a crackling in the bushes, and Merko was standing 
beside him. 

But Homer Schmitt returned, clad in pajamas. He 
Aimed off the piano. He went back to his chair and 
posed himself in his absurd and vulgar pantomine of 
lordliness, waiting for the girl to come to him. The dog 
pricked up his ears. Joan appeared in the doorway. She 
was dressed as before, except that her apron was off, 
her sleeves rolled up, and her blouse open at the throat. 
The old man made an imperious gesture, and The 
stepped forward, offering him a dish of pie, knife, and 
fork. 

Schmitt seized them and began eating. Joaq, retired 



1*9 


xxvn Merko Makes It 


into some shadows, watching him. He took several rapid 
mouthfuls, and then stopped chewing. He gazed at her 
in anger and disbelief. From the shadows she seemed to 
beg him: “What’s wrong?” Still looking at h«f, he handed 
the pie dish to the dog. 

tMerko was taking his coat off. Homer Schmitt resumed 
munching orf his apple core. The dog regurgitated the 
pie. Dog and man looked at the weary girl in the door- 
way. The animal gave a short bark. Schmitt nodded at 
Joan and jerked his thumb toward the dirty laundry. 
Then the night was filled with flying glass. 

Through the shattered pane Hal watched Merko rush, 
not at Homer Schmitt, but past him, to the musket 
lying across the table. Schmitt gave a cracked yell and 
tottered up front his chair. While Joan cowered against 
the wall, Merko broke the old man’s musket across his 
knees. He simply tore it to pieces. He tore the trigger 
out of it. Ignoring the dog, which had fastened onto his 
trouser leg, he went on and on making kindling of the 
ancient firing-piece. The old man cried frantically: “Sic 
’em! Sic ’em!” to his impotent dog, but the creature 
was sent flying by a thrust of Merko’s leg. 

Then Merko stood before Joan Vigoro and shouted in 
a mighty voice: “I love you!” 

She held out her arms to him, but he backed away, 
pointing his fist at Homer Schmitt. “I won’t have any- 
thing to do with an insulted woman. Hit him!” 

.•“Oh, never mind that. I love you, Merko, I love you.” 

“Prove it!” he demanded, shooting his fist in the direc- 
tion of the terrified Schmitt. 

“I’ll sue your whole outfit!” the old* man bawled. 



Part Two 


190 


Scrambling to escape, he tripped and collapsed in the 
mound of his own foul sheets. 

“Hit hiih!” Merko demanded once more, but without 
much conviction, for the enemy of his bride’s honor 
appeared to be unconscious, and even his dog had scut- 
tled away with terror-stricken yaps to some remote room 
upstairs. 

And now, Hal saw, the Human Fly had come to the 
end of the line. It was time for Merko to confront his 
lifelong nightmare, put up or shut up, make it or not. 
A woman’s clinging arms were reaching for him. The 
flesh of her lips threatened him with the feast he could 
not but must stomach for the sake of love. 

Hal lurked at the window, aware suddenly .of the 
scent of Merko’s roses and the chill feel of the vase 
in his hands. Waiting to see what would happen to his 
brother, and therefore to him, he heard clocks. They 
were chiming up and down the street. Altogether, it was 
fifty-six o’clock. 

He looked inside and saw his friend retreat from the 
loving girl. Merko’s arms were at his sides aftd he 
seemed, like an exhausted boxer gazing upward at the 
clock, to be searching the walls for a way out of the 
punishment that was coming to him. And the girl moved 
after him, repeating: “Merko, I love you!” in a soft 
voice. At their feet the old man from the sanctuary of 
his dirty laundry gazed pop-eyed at this spectacle. Merko 
was moving toward the window, perhaps hoping to back- 
dive out, when Hal leaned in and whispered: “Yellow 
belly!” 

Merko screwed his eyes shut His features dilated in 



xxvii Merko Makes It 


ttl 

agony;' he went in for the kiss, and made it. 

Hal turned away from the window. He felt his life’s 
energy draining out of him. ‘It’s great to see young 
people in love,’ he thought perfunctorily. But this was 
no young person. It was Merko, the rock, the only one 
i^ho was not part -of everybody else, whom he had 
counted on always to remain his opposite and end his 
days in incorruptible misery. Gone. ... 

The door opened. Merko crossed the threshold, carry- 
ing Joan and staggering (‘tlow weak he is already,’ Hal 
thought) into the moonlight. Hal walked totvard them. 
.He couldn’t think of anything to do but hold out the 
vase of roses. Merko shook his head and gasped over his 
shoulder: “Be back in a minute!” 

Hal stood in a gravel driveway watching him bear 
Joan off down the deep hill. They went beyond the 
kennels — away from the growling, baying dogs whose 
shapes he made out leaping behind wire fences. Merko 
carried her across a dry brook and then into a field of 
black, waving grass. 

Hal sat down and smoked a cigarette. He didn’t mind 
waiting. Merko had said he would be coming right back. 
He would wait for his friend, who always kept his word. 
Merko always made it, through swamp and flames, when 
he said he would. Nothing could stop him. 

He noticed a whirlpool effect in the long grass, be- 
coming gradually slower, and still. Then the night was 
rent by a war whoop. This too slowly died away. 

Hal walked down the road, and no sound followed 
him but the barking of caged dogs. On the highway he 
hailfd » bus to Boston. 




Part Three 


Chapter XXVIII The Depths of August 

Rose and Hal walked across the Common 
on their way to the psychiatrist’s office. Stealing another 
look at his expressionless smile, she knew she was not 
imagining things. ‘He’s sick,’ she told herself again. But 
of what? She prayed that, as Gladys promised, Dr. Morti- 
mer would know. 

She held his inert hand and gaily swung His unresist- 
ing arm to fool the passers-by. She peered uneasily into* 
the blank friendliness of her lover’s face. He wasn’t even 
annoyed at being asked to visit a psychiatrist. 

“Hal, dear,” she said. “What are you thinking?” She 
squeezed his fingers and after a moment received an an- 
swering pressure. “Hal.” 

He smiled at her, blinking in the sunlight. 

“Hal, I hope—” 

“Y^s,” he said, “I love you more than life itself. 
You’re all I could ever want. I dream about you §t 
night. I’m the luckiest guy in the world, and you’re the 
swellest girl I could ever hope for. I want it to go on 
like this forever.” 

He stopped, placing his hands under her elbows, and 
kssed her. He put her hand back on his. They walked 
on. He swung her hand a bit, and pressed it. 

“I was worried, dear,” she said. “I thought you might 
resent our appointment.” 

“Who, me?” 

“It nfight have seemed that I didn’t trust you.” 



Part Three 194 

c 

Again the gentle smile was turned on her, and he de- 
clared: “Well, you’ve got to find out about one another. 
Too many marriages go on the rocks because people 
don’t get to know about one another. It’s better to find 
out ahead of time than later. We are doing the wisest 
possible thing. Isn’t that right?” 

“Yes, it’s absolutely right!” she cried, with a sudden 
anguish she couldn’t hide from him. 

He looked at her curiously. Knowing he would pat her 
shoulder, she turned away from him, and then his lips 
were quietly and firmly on hers, and off, and he was ap- 
parently gazing into her eyes. 

“That’s love, isn’t it?” he said. 

“What’s love?” she cried desperately into this courte- 
ous face. 

“Why,” he said, “you know, Rose. You know what 
love is. A fellow can’t live without you. You’re crazy 
about him. You can’t get one another out of your minds. 
You can’t wait for that day — ” 

“Hal!” 

She pulled away from him. 

The swan boats were circling on the pond. 

“And sometimes you have little quarrels,” he said with 
a grin. 

She couldn’t answer him. He ducked away, and reap- 
peared holding out a bunch of violets. 

“A flower for mademoiselle?” 

She grasped the violets, staring straight ahead of her 
at a candid-camera man who had just snapped their pic- 
ture. The man handed Hal a big orange card. He 
laughed: “Hey, thanks,” and slipped it in Ms< pocket. 



[95 xxvm The Depths of August 

“Come on, honey," he said. “How about a ride on the 
swan boats?” 

They glided on the hot black water. Behind them the 
nice young man in the yachting-cap pedaled between the 
wooden swans. A fly buzzed over rows of vacant chairs. 
They were drifting.together in blazing silence. 

It was their love — safe, flat, eternal, circling in an arti- 
ficial lake, in flat water incapable of wave or eddy. They 
bumped. 

“It’s the end of the ride,” he said. “Let’s do it again.” 

She couldn't think why not. “Again?” Was there any 
reason why not? 

“Why not, honey?” he said in her ear. 

“Again?” asked the nice young man. 

Trinity Chinns were sounding. She roused herself. 

“No, no, the doctor . . .” 

“We have to go to the doctor,” he said, smiling at the 
boatman. 

She kept her eyes fixed on Dr. Mortimer’s diploma. 
The National Geographic in her lap had not been 
opened. Instead, she prayed to the god with the mus- 
tache and hom-rimmed spectacles whom she glimpsed 
through the half-open door as Hal went in. She won- 
dered if he realized how much depended on his ability 
(p get to the bottom of Hal’s mind. A love, a marriage. 
She trembled at the risk she was taking. The stake was 
so high. With her hands twisted in her skirt, she prayed 
that Dr. Mortimer’s kindly analysis would bring Hal 
back to life. 

Her* heart leaped as the door opened. She stood up. 



Part T hrer 196 

He was shaking hands with the doctor. Then Hal came 
toward her, grinning as she retreated. “Be right with 
you, honey,” he said, and went off to the washroom. 

Dr. Mortimer was beckoning to bor. 

She shook her head. 

He beckoned again, impatiently. ''Come here, please.” 

He regarded her gfkvely. “Miss, your fiancl is probably 
the best-adjusted individual I have ever talked with. 
He’s friendly and co-operative. He likes people, and has 
done well on his job. He seems perfectly normal and 
happy, and looks forward to marriage. However, he is a 
very tired boy on the verge of nervous exhaustion. Since 
I can find nothing in his emotional make-up that would 
cause this, I strongly suspect that he is being driven by 
someone dear to him — someone who herself may be rid- 
den by the very anxieties she is transferring to him.” 

“But,” Rose faltered, “I know tjhat he’s — •” 

“My dear, we have some time. Would you mind com- 
ing in, please?” 

“Doctor, isn’t Hal sick?” 

“No, he’s just tired. I suspect that he’s much better 
’friends with the world than you are.” 

“If the world thinks Hal is all right, then the world 
isn’t normal either!” Rose burst out. 

Dr. Mortimer smiled. “I’ve told him we were going to 
talk a bit,” he said. “Hal understands.” 



T97 ith How My Life is Spent 

Chapter XXIX How My Life is Spent 

Swan used to wonder about the direction 
of his life. Now there was no need to ask. It always led 
to the same place — down the corridor to Fred Purdy’s 
dllice. He dragged his sleeve across his sweating hairline, 
and made a clawing gesture, fighting his way out of Au- 
gust He felt desperate for a vacation. But it wasn’t that, 
really. 

He’d had a vacation once, and gone off to Black Pond 
and fished miserably. The humming woods 'filled with 
strange awks and cackles had frightened him. The stink 
of his bait made him sick. In the evening the laughter of 
children on the beach, while a huge fiat moon shone on 
the water, gave him the willies. His wife had stirred in the 
deck chair next to his. Her blouse was wide open at the 
throat, and her drowsy girlish regard unnerved him. She 
seemed to expect him to get up and dance in the moon- 
light. He found that he was smoking two cigarettes at 
once. There had been an awful loneliness with her. If 
she could have had kids to keep her busy . . . He had 
seized her hands. “I’ve got to get back. I’ve got to, 
honey.” He beat it back to the city. 

Now, three years later, she wanted to try to make their 
marriage warm again. “Can’t we start over, Jack?” she 
ajked, holding out her arms to him. He avoided her 
arms and her eyes. He respected his wife, and knew she 
understood that he was sexually involved somewhere 
else. Considering her now, in comparison with Gladys, 
he despised Gladys for the stupid female ox she was. Yet 
the.thseat that die night might come when he would 



Part Three 


198 


take part in some enormous perversion with that splen- 
did body held him trapped. “God, no,” he told his wife. 
M I can’t dike a vacation now with the Arcadia Conven- 
tion coming up.” He jammed on .his hat and left the 
house. 

He needed a vacation, but from life itself. He needed 
a new perspective. The trouble was, he couldn’t afford 
the time. While he was re-examining his life, others 
would steal a march on him. There would have to be a 
time-out whisde, with everyone required to fall into the 
same reverie. . . . 

Swan had slept raggedly and waked up with a crushed 
feeling around his eyes. There was no discharge from the 
war. Purdy would be on top of him because he hadn’t 
got the mayor lined up. He would have to sidetrack 
him— bear down heavily on the Hingham publicity. But 
first, for God’s sake, he had to jind Hingham and talk 
with him. 

He heard laughter from Purdy’s office. To the good. 
He stepped inside and paused. Someone, apparently a 
y9ung salesman, was leaning across the desk and laugh- 
ing in the agency-director’s face. And Fred seemed not 
to mind. 

“You’re absolutely right,” the fellow said. “A rest. 
That’s what I need. Ha, ha. Just get lost, exactly accord- 
ing to your suggestion. I’ll do that.” 

“That’s the idea,” said Purdy in a caressing tone Swan 
had never heard him use before. “It’s your old home 
town. You haven’t been back for years. That Tercen- 
tenary business ought to be a lot of fun.” 



‘499 xxix How My Life is Spent 

“A big celebration! It will help me relax!” The sales- 
man grasped Purdy’s hand. 

“Right, and in a week or so I’ll get in touch with you. 
You’ll be at your aunt’s — ” 

The salesman turned swiftly, colliding with Swan. 
*$orry!” he cried. 

“I’m glad you two have run into each other,” said 
Fred Purdy. “Hal, this is Jack Swan — the fellow who’s 
going to handle the interviews and stories about you. 
Jack, this is Hal.” 

Swan gazed with misgivings into a countenance of 
wild-eyed friendliness. 

“Hal,” Purdy said, “I wonder if you’d mind waiting in 
the conference room while Jack and I have a word. 
Then I think he wants to get together with you for a few 
minutes in regard to publicity and all that.” 

“What’s he so upset about?*’ asked Swan, after Hing- 
ham had gone out. 

“This,” said Purdy, pushing the latest copy of The 
Arcadian across his blotter. Swan looked at a boxed-in 
photograph of Hingham’s head and shoulders. The cap- 
tion read: 


HE STANDS OUT FROM THE CROWD 

Hal Hingham, 3 rd-Place Winner, 

Toppled All Summer Records 

“Well, it’s a natural reaction — nothing to worry 
about,” said Swan uneasily. 

“Of course not,” his client agreed pleasantly. “You 
stiil intend to handle him, don’t you?” 



Part Thkii 


209 * 


“Certainly, Fred” 

“I’m glad. The home office has accepted my recom- 
mendation* that we build part of our campaign around 
Hingham. In addition, he will speak at the convention. 
They note that it’s a departure from company policy to 
emphasize the work of one man, bi£ in this case they’ll 
go along. Now, as regards the rest of it, hoW about the 
mayor? Have you got him?” 

Swan coughed as he was about to light his cigarette, 
blowing out the flame. He worked his lighter. 

“I’d say — ah. I’ve got the mayor, Fred, that’s definite. 
Barring the fact that he may go to the Black Hills. But 
if he’s here, he’ll present Hingham with the scroll. Then 
he’ll speak before the Convention for two minutes — in 
the course of which, Fred, I’m going to have him men- 
tion that he himself is an Arcadia policy-holder. It will 
look fine for us in the papers, don’t you think? Now, 
about TV and radio . . 

Swan had long ago been forced to distinguish between 
official truth and real truth. There was also the truth of 
appropriateness. It was officially true, for instance,* that 
jhfc mayor was an Arcadia Life policy-holder, although 
in fact he was not. Similarly, he had the mayor, despite 
die fact that Hallahan was almost surely going to be in 
the Black Hills. What Swan had was Mayor Hallahan’s 
official presence at the Convention. The speech Halla- 
han had not written, including the remark about the 
policy he did not have, would be read by somebody else. 

“Albrecht is definitely interested in a Hingham inter- 
view, either live or on film. The only thing is the 
Weather. If it. doesn’t rain, the night game might blanket 



•£01 xnx How My Life is Spent 

our time. One more thing — Hingham’s speech. I’D— w 

"Just don’t let him know that he’s going to speak to 
the Convention — not until the last moment,” Purdy said. 

“Right. I’ll go in and sound him out now, and report 
back to you in a couple of minutes.” 

Swan went into the conference room, and Hingham 
stood up to greet him. 

“Nice to have you back, Hal. That was a great record 
you set.” Swan sat down opposite the man who would be 
his property for the next few weeks. “As Frpd told you, 
we want to set up a little publicity on the job you did. 
You know, contrasting your previous — shortcomings — 
with the terrific breakthrough. This means articles in the 
paper, some interviews — ” 

Hingham blanched and turned away. 

“Oh, now wait,” said Swan reproachfully. “Don’t 
worry. I handle this ISnd of thing all the time. I promise 
you there’ll be nothing embarrassing. You’ll see. Right 
now, this is just a preliminary. I want to get a line on 
youf true personality.” 

Hingham raised his head and whispered: “I haven’t 
any.” 

“That’s all right,” said Swan. “I’ll create one for you. 
What would you rather be? Young and arrogant — hum- 
ble, conscientious— modest — ?” 

“Yes” 

’Tine. We’ll go on the modesty basis. I’ll cook up some 
stories, and we can get together in a week or so to work 
out your dialogue. Don’t worry, Hal,” Swan repeated, 
getting up. “By the way, haven’t I met your fiancee— 



Part Three 


202 


that nice-looking girl, Rose, who rooms with Gladys?” 

“Yes, she’s the sweetest girl in the world.” 

“I believe you. Well, okay, Hal, good to have had this 
talk. We’ll be in touch after the end of the week.’’ 

“It was a good idea, your sending Ijim on a vacation,” 
Swan said to Fred Purdy. “Frankly, he’s in fto shape at 
all. Where’s he going? You’ll have to give me his ad- 
dress.” 

“Here,” said the agency-director. “He’s from Hamp- 
ton. The town is celebrating its Tercentenary. I suppose 
there will be some laughs for all.” 

“Three hundred years old — the way I feel,” joked 
Swan. The fact was that he felt better than he had for 
some time, and was not really worried about Hingham’s 
condition. Given the right material, he would be okay. 
Swan knew that no man was better or worse than his 
material. 

“I’ll keep 'track of him through his girl friend. The 
first principle is, whenever you can, operate through la 
femme? he said jauntily. “I’m going over there around 
six. 

Swan drove to the Charles Street walk-up, remember- 
ing the humiliating evenings he had spent with Gladys 
and her football -player. Today he felt stronger. Perhaps 
he was in a low period of his sexual cycle. He .felt he 
had so much momentum worked up that he might pay 
practically no attention to his blonde fetish, and stick to 
his business with Rose. 

It was Ros$ who opened the door. “I’ve come go see 



203 


xxix How My Life is Spent 

you — about Hal,” Swan explained, smiling. He made a 
point of not asking for Gladys. He told Rose about Hal's 
success, and the publicity that would be arranged to 
honor him. She nqdded happily, although, he noted, 
with some reserve. “It will give him confidence,” she 
said. 

“Not to idention some extra moolah for the honey- 
moon,” put in Swan. But she didn’t respond. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You don’t 
think Hal is very well, do you?” 

She began to cry quietly into her handkerchief. 

“Did you ever think of sending him to a psychiatrist. 
Rose — I mean, after the Convention?” 

She sobbed. “I did. Dr. Mortimer said to leave him 
alone — that he was under too much pressure.” 

“There you are. That’s what we want to avoid, right? 
Because as it gets close to Convention time, he will have 
to be under some pressure. Our job will be to shepherd 
him through; so, to begin with, Mr. Purdy has sent him 
on a week’s vacation to his home town — Hampton. Here’s 
the address; it’s his aunt’s house. Now, will you make 
sure to keep in touch with him, or the aunt, and let ifle , 
know every day what he’s doing? Okay? In that way, we 
can . . .” 

Swan paused, in fascination. Through the half-open 
door leading to the bedroom, he saw the bathroom door 
move, and Gladys emerged naked, the first time he had 
seen her so. She passed before the mirror, and stopped to 
consider herself. The view of her splendid white back 
made him faint with desire. Then she turned, and he 
saw that the great body that had nearly ruined his life 



Part Three 


204 ’ 

had undergone a change, thickened, and become softly 
massive and gentle. Gladys did not stride any more, but 
planted her feet carefully, turned slightly outward. She 
was not admiring, but examining hejj new contours. He 
caught a glimpse of lusterless, staring eyes. She was eat- 
ing an apple. 

And all at once, in this moment, he was'free of her. 
The magnificent body he had fearfully lusted after had 
been returned to nature to carry on, presumably, the 
Irish race. Thick, soft, and quiescent, Gladys’s great 
blond frame was obviously no longer capable of the gym- 
nastics he had dreamed about. She was a cow, no more 
attractive to him than any other woman. He would as 
soon make a pass at Rose, he thought, with a dart of 
malice. 

“Doll,” he 6aid to Rose, “you and I will see to it that 
Hal gets through all right. Will you remember to keep 
in touch with me now?” 

“I’ll do everything I can,” answered Rose in a dispir- 
ited tone, seeing him to the door. 

“And give my regards to your roommate. Tell her I’D 
set her around," he said in a loud voice. 


Chapter XXX On the Train 

“Atlantic!” cried the conductor in the 
nearly empty car. “Haven’t I seen you somewheres?” 

“I guess—” 



*205 xxx On the Tran 

“Let’s see your ticket. Hampton, I thought so. You’re 
a Hampton boy.’’ 

“I’m a Hampton boy.” 

“I knew it. Mayjge you’ve been away, but no matter. 
It doesn’t rub off. Going back down for the Tercente- 
nary?” 

“Yes, I afh.” 

“I could tell. Well, it’s the biggest day Hampton will 
ever have, I imagine.” 

“Yes,” Hal said, looking out the window. The pane 
was spotted with rained-on coal dust. He considered the 
mud flats and the tilted masts of skiffs stranded at low 
tide. Yellow mists moved about the bay. A boy leaped 
off some decaying piles into the shallows and came up 
holding his nose amid a spray of mud. 

He felt himself in the middle of a big endless day, not 
at all like any day he had ever known. He turned anx- 
iously to the conductor and said: “It is bigger, isn’t it 
All stretched out. It covers the whole future.” 

“Past and future,” the conductor amended. “It covers 
everything the town was, and foreshadows what it hopes 
to be. I hated to miss the pageant, but we’ve been put. 
there twice today already, and you should see the square. 
Eveiybody’s walking around in their Pilgrim costumes. 
They’ve got to dress up in some kind of costume. That’s 
the law today. And there’s bands— music. 

“Rexford!" 

The train paused beside what looked like a large out- 
house, and no one got off or came aboard. 

“North Burnham next!” The conductor went on 



Part Three 


20 *' 

about the celebration he wouldn’t be able to witness. 
“There’s a lot of tradition in that town. Of course, after 
three huiidred years you’re bound to get a certain 
amount of it. 

“North Burnham. You know, you hate to miss any- 
thing that only happens once in three hundred years, no 
matter what it is. Whatever stays in one pldfce that long 
is worth looking at, I believe. 

“Burnham!” 

“Look!” Hal pointed. On the station platform he saw 
two forms of himself, identical young men in slanted 
hats, in vague attitudes, watching the trains go by. 

“Couple of Hampton fellows?” inquired the con- 
ductor. 

Hal fell asleep and dreamed he was dead. Death was a 
flat bright eternity in which people kept talking to him, 
not understanding that he wasn’t there. Or, rather, they 
persisted in speaking to forms of him he had long since 
discarded or had not yet assumed. He tried everything to 
capture popular acceptance. He fought to get through 
to these others, and make them at least see hint* He 
.couldn’t He was forced to stand by helplessly and watch 
his spurious forms distract them. 

He dreamed he pursued this multitude of fakers, and 
tried vainly to cram them back into his being. This irri- 
tated the people. One of them in a conductor’s uniform 
said: “Wake up — you’re home.” 

“Accept me,” he pleaded. 

“Hampton!” 



*?07 xxxi The Tercentenary Parade 

Chapter XXXI The Tercentenary Parade 

He stepped off the train into the riotous 
square that was ffltaT with Pilgrims and painted Indians. 
Bandsmen in red, white, and blue uniforms had assem- 
blfed in the parking-jot across from the railroad station. 
A tuba, catching the sun, made a large gold flash in the 
late afternoon. The crowds moved through muffled, des- 
ultory drumbeats. There were firecrackers. A clown ran 
around with a cowbell. 

A man in a black suit and black derby came at him, 
shouting: “You’re a clown!” This one didn’t intend to 
brutalize him, but was anxiously appealing to his sense 
of civic responsibility. He held forth the splash of violent 
colors, the clown suit that needed to be filled, begging: 
“It’s the last one! Be a sport.” 

All his life Hal had wanted to be a sport, and now he 
had finally made it. He was the biggest sport of all time. 

The official seized him. He was passed from hand to 
hand, and thrust into a Pilgrim stockade that enclosed 
the rilen’s dressing-room. He zippered on the clown suit. 
As the conical dunce cap was clapped on his head, a tre- 
mendous fanfare started up in the square, and there was 
a great shuffling of feet. 

“Hurry, paint his face,” urged the nervous official in 
the black derby. 

The make-up man squinted at Hal. 

“Bob Pierce!” 

“Mr. Pierce. They started the parade! 

“Oh, God. I told them not to!” moaned Bob Pierce, 
wringing his derby. 



Part Thrbr 200 

The make-up man suddenly put down his tools. 

“Where are you going? Finish his face.” 

"Nuts,” the technician said. “I’m going to watch the 
parade." 

“No clown is leaving my stockade without a face on." 

The make-up man walked out. 

“Oh, God,” said $ob Pierce. “Here. Come here.” He 
drew Hal to him. “There now. White — red. I’ll spot you 
up a bit — all we can do. Hurry, turn sideways. Now your 
mouth. Dam it — now see what I’ve done. I painted your 
lips sideways and curved down. I’ve made you sullen 
and sad. Never mind. It won’t do you any good to smile. 
Just kick up your heels. All right, hurry! Hurry up and 
catch the others. Good luck!” 


He ran down Main Street alongside the unwinding 
parade. He didn’t know where he belonged. There were 
other clowns, he saw, but all of them had their places 
with one contingent or another. And all but he had ex- 
pressions of lunatic joy painted on their faces. He* tried 
to join a formation of Odd Fellows. They laughed and 
swung their quarterstaffs at him. 

“Hey, Pagliacci!” 

“That’s the saddest clown I ever saw!” 

The firemen refused to let him sit on their truck. He 
couldn’t approach the Boy Scouts. He paused amid the 
uproar of aimless hilarity — a lone, sullen clown sticking 
out of the joyous afternoon like a sore thumb. A tin 
lizzie full of Pilgrims and Indians rolled by, and the 
band wound up and let go: 



209 xxxi The Tercentenary Parade 

**0H, THE MONKEY WRAPPED HIS TAIL AROUND THE 

flagpole!” 

And as he loitered beside all this brutal merriment, 
feeling the old terrible pangs of loneliness, he suddenly 
realized that he was back where he started from. They 
didn’t recognize him# They would refuse to know where 
he had been, or the things he had done. He would con- 
quer every city but this one. He would always collapse 
here, and be the stranger with a poor mouth. 

He started to run again, to make them accept him, but 
encounter td s«n endless column of indifference. Boy 
Scouts, Sea Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Odd Fellows, 
Firemen, Mad Hatters, Damon Boys, Pythian Sisters, 
the Alakazam Social Club, Red Cross, Gray Ladies, Ro- 
tary, Lions, and Kiwanis, and the John Sprague Make- 
peace American Legion Post #73 Band all passed him 
by. 

The whole framework of his contented life parted and 
burst away, and he felt as he had when he was ten years 
old — so panicky that he had become lost on Main Street, 
of all*streets, and called out after his father, who had left 
him there as a test of self-reliance. 

Then all the paraders started to laugh at him and 
poke him off. Dodging poles, bats, and muskets, he 
sought to identify himself with one group or another, 
while the spectators lining Main Street laughed to see 
such a sjfbrt It was no doubt part of the game, a feature 
of the parade. This must be the Tercentenary Jester. 

At last he discovered a place next to the band, whose 
members were too busy for horseplay. He found peace 
by fhe elide trombone and the bass drum, as the parade 



Part Three 


210 


moved under the great elms of Main Street. He thought 
shamefully: ‘If Dr. Modesto could see me now.’ Yet in 
spite of *his dread at being home again, he felt some 
small excitement returning to his life 1 . He asked, without 
knowing what he meant: ‘Is it too late for me?’ 

A sharp whistle penetrated these, thoughts. It was the 
kind boys make thrbugh their two fingers, ’of gang call- 
ing to gang, and he had no gang. He would cower over 
the game of checkers he was playing with himself. “Aunt 
Mary!” Alone in the house with her, a glimpse of his fa- 
ther, and alone again. They marched by the place where 
the drunken man had chased him down the hill. Farther 
on, the boy had set off the firecracker under his dog. He 
had known which one it was, and had dared not do any- 
thing about it. Yet there was the sweet and incompre- 
hensible afternoon when the same boy came swooping 
out of the woods and helped him home with his broken 
bicycle. God knew he had wanted to play with them, and 
be regular, but instead he played cribbage with his aunt. 
When the parades came down the street, he bolted for 
the attic. His father came along enough to force Hm to 
collect stamps. He thought of the caterpillar he had kept 
in a tin can that emerged one day as a shattered, enfee- 
bled tiger swallowtail which he had thus ruined before 
birth. 

“BEER, BEER FOR OLD HAMPTON HIGH — 

YOU BRING THE COCKTAILS, I’LL BRING THE RYE. . . .” 

They were marching by the clump of evergreens and 
the ole swimmin’ hole he never swam in. Then he saw 
his aunt’s house. 



211 xxxi The Tercentenary Parade 

“send somebody out for gin — 
don’t let a sober person in!” 

The clown wit^the sullen mouth galloped down the 
side street, and the parade went on without him. 

He knelt ty the crumbling old lady, the companion of 

his childhood, who caressed his hair and wondered at his 

clown costume. Her hand was like a faded cushion on 

his shoulder. She smelled of balsam and clean linen kept 

in a clciet for years. On the table beside her, the buff 
* 

thimble, the tiny scissors, and the kit of dry threads 
formed a still life of which, until she moved, she was an 
integral part. 

He heard the dainty little voice as if it came from one 
of the house’s dark corners: “How you have grown up, 
Harold. You <were always too shy to march in the pa- 
rade.” 

“What was I like, Auntie? I can’t remember.” 

“You were my shy little boy. I used to say you’d never 
grow up, like Peter Pan. Oh, how angry your father 
was!” 

His head was aching and he felt cold. “Aunt Mary, 
was he ever kind to me?” 

“He was good to you, dear.” 

“Good?” he said. “I don’t remember. Could he have 
been gdbd and unkind?” 

She touched him and whispered: “Poor boy, you’re in 
a fever. Come to the kitchen.” 

Geatly she washed the paint from his face. Sweating 
and coughing, he struggled out of the clown suit. 



Part Three 2li 

“You ought to go to bed, dear.” 

He shiyered. 

“Go to sleep,” she said in his ear. “Your room is just 
the way you left it.” 

“But what will I do when I wake up. Auntie?” 

She held up one .finger and smil£d mysteriously. He 
heard church bells. She was gone. He day down in the 
dark bedroom. His head throbbed against his forearm. 
The idea of going to church some day comforted him. 
He saw a great dark church blazing with candles. The 
bells went on for a while. As he dozed, his fever in- 
creased. His aunt called the doctor and went to the 
kitchen to make hot tea and honey, to make him per- 
spire. But his clothes were already drenched with perspi- 
ration when he got up and staggered and fell to the 
floor. 


Chapter XXXII Back to Life 

He woke to a strangely cool morning. 
From his upstairs room he looked across three back 
yards, and in each of them householders were raking 
leaves. There was the thump of foot on leather, and a 
swarm of helmeted little boys piled up in the meadow. 
He smelled leather, wood smoke, and burning leaves, 
and wondered where the autumn had come from. 

He felt that he was tinder-dry and light enough to be 
carried away by any wind. His body rustled between the 
sheets. His hands drifted to rest on the coverlet. He was 



213 


xxxn Back to Life 

well, and purified and exhausted forever. The sickness 
had taken his blood and marrow, leaving him a perfect 
man of parchment with weak tea in his veins. He had 
never felt so listless and so well. 

^“Aunt Mary!” he called. 

She came gunning* in with an ice-bag and fitted it on 
him like a gray and black checkered beret. But then she 
chanced to look in his eyes, and saw the dull sign of life 
in them. “Oh, thank God, Harold!” She pressed her 
webbed cheek against his. “You poor boy. You’ve come 
back.” 

“What do you mean. Auntie?” he asked. “Where have 
I been?” 

“Never mind,” she murmured. Her hand explored his 
exhausted face. “I told them you would get well. You 
are well, aren’t you, dear?” she inquired anxiously. “I 
told them God would *iot send you there and leave you, 
because you are a good boy.” 

At this he roused himself a bit, and gazed at her 
mournfully from under the ice-bag. “How long have I 
been sick, Auntie?” 

“Nearly two weeks, dear.” 

She explained what had happened to him, and he re- 
membered some of it. After the church bells, he had 
fallen with a sigh at Aunt Mary’s feet. The doctor took 
his temperature and threw the thermometer away. It was 
a searing fever. He cried out against his father and in- 
voked a pair of pagan gods named Modesto and Merko 
to destroy the old man. They wrapped him in wet sheets. 
He was Inflamed from head to foot. Even his toes ached. 
He«wrfthed if someone touched his hair. .Begging pro- 



Part Three 


21 * 

tection against two vipers called Purdy and Swan, he 
made continual pushing gestures, as if to ward off the 
whole world. 

It was a life-and-death need to k£ep people at a dis- 
tance, because every time he became intimate with them 
they stole part of him. He was growing smaller and 
smaller. Help! They packed him in ica He sang all the 
verses of “The Star Spangled Banner,” but they wouldn’t 
let him alone. His very blood, the linings of his brain 
and liver, everything about him was inflamed, including 
his imagination. He thought a motorcycle was pursuing 
him. 

He had visitors — the nice Mr. Purdy and Mr. Swan — 
but he got it into his head that they were pallbearers 
and shouted for them to disappear, until they did. Mr. 
Swan sent flowers. He sent the doctor a quartz cigarette 
case with a note: “There’s more n it for 'you if you get 
him on his feet before September 20.” 

“They seem very anxious about you, dear,” Aunt 
Mary said proudly. “They phone from Boston every 

d ?y” 

“Tell them,” he said, “I’m going to Nebraska.” 

“But first you must go to Boston.” She nodded brightly 
and replenished his ice-bag. 

A rather plain girl named Rose had wept over him 
and gone away. But she came back on her vacation, and 
helped Aunt Mary with the dishes. She hung around. 
She left two tickets to a football game. They were all go- 
ing to the game together when he got well; her girl 
friend’s fiancd was playing in it. “Do things together,’’ 
the psychiatrist had said. “Do it yourself!” he rdkred at 



115 xxxii Back to Life 

her, twisting about in the bedclothes. “Easy, boy,’* said 
the doctor, needling him. He threw the covers off, but 
they tucked him in like a baby. They were in league 
with the grinning Viailmen who kept his letters from 
reaching Dr. Modesto. Over and over again he had mailed 
hfc frantic calls for l^lp, and there was no answer. 

“Mr. Purdy and Mr. Swan asked me not to mention it 
until you got better, but they want to see you right 
away.” Aunt Mary propped up his pillows. “It must be 
something v ’ry important.” She brought hinr his break- 
fast tray. The autumn sun warmed his tea and toast. He 
ate dazzling scrambled eggs, and the big glass of orange 
juice was like an alarm. 

“We mustn’t be lazy just because we were sick.” 

The tart note in Aunt Mary’s voice made him look at 
her in surprise ,She had never spoken to him in this way. 
Then he saw that she was wearing a corsage of pink 
roses, and quartz earrings, and she said: “Now, we’ve 
promised Mr. Swan you would call him this morning.” 

He'had to get away. They were all in league against 
him, even Aunt Mary. He stole into the closet and founil 
his clothes. He came out on wobbly legs, already faint 
from the effort of dressing — sloppy, unbuttoned, but still 
dressed — and sneaked downstairs. He heard pots and 
pgns in the kitchen. He could make it now, stagger to 
the field? and hide in the grass until night, then escape 
to Nebraska. . . . 

Silently he eased the door open and slipped outside. 
A creating sound made him turn. Rose was swinging in 
the hammock. She was waiting for him on the front 



Part T hree 


2U? 

porcn, with two bags packed. One was his. She regarded 
him with a steadfast love, but at the same time she was 
swinging h handbag with a big quartz buckle. 


Chapter XXXIII Pressure on Jalk Swan 

Fred Purdy had forgotten that everything 
was made for laughs. 

“Aside from not being able to produce Hingham, after 
having promised the papers you would,” he said, “what’s 
this I hear about the mayor?” 

Swan put a trembling cigarette in his mouth. “Fred, 
Hallahan went to the Black Hills after all. It was one of 
those things. I even called the State House, and I would 
have been able to get Ernie Ransom to stop him, but 
Ernie—” 

“In other words, the mayor isn’t going to be with us 
Monday,” the client said. 

“Well, he is in a sense. City Hall approved the speech, 
, afid the acting mayor, that’s Barris, will read it on Halla- 
han’s behalf. As for Hingham, please don’t give up hope 
yet. The aunt tells me he’s coming out of it. She says he 
doesn’t look too bad, and we’ve got seventy-two hours 
yet. If they do get him up here, I’ve got a terrific pro- 
gram— he’s already fixed up for a Sunday feature in the 
Herald. He’s on radio — the Helen Crabtree show, and 
Young America Speaks. On TV, we’ve got a spot on 
Success Story. 

“Also, the speech I’ve written for Hingham is, if I do 



117 zzxm Pressure on Jack Swan 

say so, really memorable. The papers have advance "cop- 
ies. He pays a tribute to Arcadia, and you, Fred, and 
what life insurance stands — ” 

“Swan,” said the Agency-director, “I don’t suppose it’s 
polite to break into one of your pipe dreams, but I’m 
sidk of your glibne^j, and excuses, and general ineffi- 
ciency. For instance, you talk of seventy-two hours. In 
other words, assuming that by some miracle Hingham 
could be in Boston tomorrow, you expect me to believe 
that you would see him through all those interviews, and 
so forth. But T know where you’ll be tomorrow — at that 
football game for another, and much smaller, account 
Why do you kid me? 

“Perhaps you don’t understand me. You think I’m a 
caustic but easygoing chap. You’re probably aware that 
I don’t care about this Convention nonsense, and don’t 
believe in it Bijt my attitude is a luxury, you see. 1 can 
only have it so long as fm successful. Once I slip — ” 

He was interrupted by the telephone. The call was 
for Swan, who shot out of his chair to pick up the re- 
ceiver* 

“Hello,” he said. “No!” he cried in incredulous jojl. 
“Here now? Hold him, I’m coming!” 

Swan reached for his hat. “It’s what’s-her-name, the 
girl She’s with Hingham at his room in the Circle Hotel. 
I’m going to get you that publicity this afternoon.” At 
the door, »he said recklessly: “Perhaps you are sorry for 
some of those words, Fred.” 



Part Three 


21 » 


Chapter XXXIV The Hal Hingham Story 

Hal clutched handfuls of letters and post 
cards and let them fall about him like confetti. “Dear,” 
Rose said, “they’re compliments for you,” and went 
around picking them up. 

The hotel room turned quietly. His picture was on the 
cover of The Arcadian and the caption said: “hottest 
underwriter.” He examined with renewed astonishment 
the confidential interview some writer had apparently 
held with him. They must have had someone imperson- 
ating him. 

Then he saw, stuck to the back of an envelope, a 
great, riotously colored post card. He bent down to read 
it, and cried out with love and misery at the snapshot of 
two small, savage figures hanging from the Eiffel Tower, 
each with a leg around a girder, leaning into space and 
waving at him. The message read:' 

Just married. 

This is a great town. 

Joan and Merko 

There was a hammering at the door. Rose clasped his 
hand. “It’s unlocked!” she called, and Swan burst into 
the room. 

“Hal, boy! It’s wonderful to have you back. Just in 
time! Come on, now. We’ve got everything at once to do 
this afternoon. First stop, the Globe, then the Post” 

“Are you sure it will be all right?” Rose inquired tim- 



V9 xznv Tfce HXl ffinghant Story 

idly. She made a sign to Swan, indicating that HaPtf&s 
not very well. Swan didn’t need to be told. It was ob- 
vious to him that Hingham was wobbly and would get 
worse if something) wasn’t done. 

“Let’s go,” he said. They went down in the elevator 
and Swan told them^ with a wink: “First stop, I want 
you to meet -a friend of mine named Hennessy,” and he 
led them into the^bar. 

The brandy made Hal gasp. Soon he felt stronger, and 
it seemed to him that a golden column had been sent up 
his spine. “You like my friend, hey?” laughed Swan. 
“Have another? You, too?” he added to Rose. They 
shook their heads. “All right, we’ll be on our way, then.” 
His property, he saw, had become much more presenta- 
ble. Now the deal was to rush him through before the 
effect wore off. 

Meanwhile Rose hung on to Hal’s hand. She was 
fascinated yet frightened by Swan and the world of suc- 
cess he represented. If anything went wrong with Hal as 
a result of Swan’s dragging him around, it would be on 
her conscience forever. Yet the publicity and all the 
honors could be so right for Hal’s future and their fu- 
ture together. She nodded when Swan said: “All right, 
kids.” She took Hal’s arm and they followed him to a 
taxi. 

The afternoon passed in a delirium of publicity. Hal 
learned |rom a series of press releases thrust under his 
nose in various taxicabs that his system was based on 
modesty. Swan had instinctively divined something of the 
nature of Centralism. He had hit on the term “self- 


H 



Part Three 23.0 

effaesment” to describe Hal’s secret. According to one of 
his releases: 

“When I’m with a prospect I try to efface myself,” 
Hingham declared. “I try to remember that where 
his needs are concerned, I do not exist,” the sensa- 
tional young underwriter went on. 

This line remarkably suited Swan’s’ property of the 
afternoon, who appeared almost totally effaced by his 
good fortune. But it didn’t matter. As Swan calculated, 
those who interviewed Hal were already so impressed by 
his record (which Swan had distributed separately) that 
although he was dazed and drowsy, murmuring he hardly 
knew what answers, Hal made a fine impression every- 
where. 

Jack Swan skillfully threw it away: “As you may well 
believe, Hal is beat. He’d appreciate a little forbearance, 
but here he is. . . .” 

Hal simply hung on. One face after another came be- 
fore him. Hands were put in his and withdrawn. Some of 
these people had notebooks. Others put microphones to 
hjs lips, and there were cameras everywhere. 

“Now, what is it, Mr. Hingham, that you believe to be 
at the bottom of your overnight success 9 ” 

“Modesty.” 

“Really. That’s interesting. And how did you — ” 

“In the Bible,” he replied, as Swan had coached him. 
“Well, that’s marvelous .” 

They asked him about his relations with his father: 
“You used to resent him?” 

“Yes, but I got on top of my feeling and now I am 



£21 xxxiv The HU Bingham Story 

glad that he provided me with a challenge,” he ssrtd, las 
he had memorized it in the cab. 

Rose followed along helplessly. She was both thrilled 
and dismayed by Swan’s headlong charge through the 
city’s newspaper offices, and the radio and television sta- 
tions. He was incredibly different from the darkly in- 
hibited bantam suitor who used to wait on Gladys and 
Heffenun. Here*he was a demon, dragging Hal to the 
desks of city editors, bullying his way past receptionists, 
and finally, still holding Hal by the hand, he walked past 
frantic signals into a television program and actually 
pushed his property in front of the camera. 

At this point she felt that it was time for her to inter- 
vene. Hal was moving more and more like a robot. She 
looked into his eyes, and they were lifeless. He seemed 
to see nothing and care for nothing, although, curiously, 
he became increasingly polite to all who spoke to him. 
“Yes, Mr. Swin,” he %aid, and “Yes, dear,” when she 
asked if he was tired. 

“Can’t we stop now? Remember, Hal has just come 
Atom £ sickbed,” she appealed to Swan. 

They were in the elevator, coming down from a televi- 
sion studio. “Maybe you’re right,” Swan agreed. He was 
smiling and breathing heavily. He stood with his hand 
slipped inside his jacket, and looked very much the 
leader. “Yes,” he said, “that ought to be enough for to- 
day. Don’t forget, though, tonight Hal sleeps at your 
place.” 

He sent them home in a cab. As Hal got in, he took 
Rose aside. “You’re going to the game tomorrow. That’s 
fine. Vl%11 all be able to keep an eye on each other. The 



Part Three 


22 ? 


pfoblfcm is to keep everything on an even keel until 
Monday afternoon. Just don’t tell him about the speech. 
Okay?” * 

Swan shook hands with Rose. “By the way, if I come 
up, it won’t be to see your roommate. I guess you know 
I’m through with her,” he said proudly. 


Chapter XXXV Masks Off 

Hal sat in the Bay State U. rooting-section 
with Rose and Gladys. They had seats near the bench, 
giving them a close view of Johnny Heffeman power- 
ing up and down the sideline with flailing elbows, pre- 
paring for the job he was going to do on the Norway 
Tech line. Also, near the bench, down among the play- 
ers, was Jack Swan. He sat behind his typewriter at a 
long table with two college-boy assistants. His task was 
to provide the press with on-the-spot comment and color 
from the Bay State U. side. Now and then he spoke into 
t a ‘field telephone connecting him with the press box, but 
mpstly he kept his eye on the Hingham party. He waved 
at Rose when the others weren’t looking. 

Three boys and three girls with megaphones turned 
cartwheels on the green, and Hal joined in a long cheer 
for Bay State U. 

“Hal, look. Gladys has her name in the paper,” said 
Rose, handing him the sports page. He read the col- 
umn: 



<23 


xxxv Masks Off 


COPP ON THE BEAT 

BY EARL COPP 

At Exeter Field, highly touted Pay State U. plays host to 
Norway Tech. This is supposed to be BSU’s year, and on 

S iper they are at least three touchdowns better than Skip 
autreau’s Green Mbuntaineers. The huge BSU forward 
wall led by 240-pound Johnny “Slam” Heffernan figures 
to spend the afternoon in Norway’s backfield and mess up 
Skip’s fast but fragile ball carriers before they can get 
started. 

Incidentally, the Slammer threw a monster banquet for 
his mates last Tuesday to celebrate his engagement to 
beauteous Gladys Swaim, a nurse at Hartsdale Hospital. 
This kind of high -jinks is one reason wdiy a few of the 
more cautious experts are wary of BSU. The question has 
been asked whether love and late hours are a suitable 
prelude to a contest with the mysterious Vermonters. 

•SURPglSED HARVARD 

You can’t afford to trifle with a Gautreau-coached outfit. 
The teams Skip brings down here are usually small, but 
they can be tough and nasty — as surprised Harvard found 
Rut tjjiree years ago. Of course, Harvard isn’t in the same 
class with BSU. Furthermore, Coach Ed Notsik claims 
that the midnight frolic for Heffernan and his bride-to-be 
was just the spate of relaxation his team needed. 

The tea leaves tell us he is right. The pick here is BSU 
by 20-0. The forecast is for a middling-warm sunny day. 
This may take some of the starch out of Heffernan & Co., 
blit it won’t do the northerners any good either. Athletic 
Director* Ed Maxwell expects a crowd of 20,000 or more 
for the season opener. 

Gladys didn’t appear to be moved by the story one 
way or another. She sat hunched over, brooding on the 



Part Three 


224 


field. With a flowing maroon bandanna around her head 
and shoulders, she resembled a shawled peasant girl, 
bowed With labor. She chewed her gum like a cud. Only 
when Heffernan led the BSU team out on the field did 
she sit up and become a bit animated. 

Hal shouted and groaned with the orhers to see what 
was going on out on the football field. It was unbelieva- 
ble. Poor Ed Notsik was clawing the “B” off his sweater 
and weeping. He was going to hear from the alumni. 

“Rah!” Hal said feebly, along with Rose and Gladys 
and the rooters around him. There was little to cheer 
about. The BSU banners had fallen off everybody’s 
knees. Norway was driving again. Skinny Villon sneaked 
through for seven. Poquelin plowed over left tackle for 
sixteen. Then Poquelin lateraled to Le Due, who went 
all the way. 

“Oh, how awful!” screamed Rose. 

Poquelin kicked the point. 

“Norway Tech is now forty-six,” said the public 
address announcer. “Bay State — ” 

“nothing!” roared the Norway stands. 

Everybody was drunk over there, and they had a right 
to be. Gladys sat with her chin on her fists. The tears of 
fury were gone, and she regarded the field with weari- 
ness and contempt. Her great shoulders quivered. Rose 
leaped up with every play, waving her banner no matter 
who had the ball. Out of the comer of her eye she 
watched Hal anxiously, and she listened to his exhausted 
shouts, longing to know what he was thinking. 

He was thinking: ‘It’s the end, this is the end.' 



225 


mv Masks Off 


The Team of Destiny lost its mask early. The visitors 
from Vermont ran like crazed billygoats through the 
hapless monsters. They sprang on Johnny Heffeman 
with knees and cleats. His formidable nose guard was el- 
bowed off during the third play of the game. They ran 
Ground him and thaough him and over him. They laid 
him out like*a corpse before his bride-to-be, and ran over 
his great shape as rodents do in an animated cartoon. 
Norway Tech thumbed its nose at everything Bay State 
University stood for. In the third quarter, with the 
whipped and panting monsters behind 27-0, one of 
Tech's watch-charm guards flung himself sideways and 
sickened Heffeman with a terrible belt in the gut. Amid 
absolute silence he was carried off the field. 

“Stop him!” Rose begged, as Le Due drove for the 
touchdown, and then turned in embarrassment to see 
Hal’s reaction. She needn’t have feared his opinion of 
her. He had no opinion. Life was a gray irrelevance. He 
saw through to the bones of people, not only through 
J:he flesh, but through the flesh of their thought to the 
skeletal motive. He found no motives. He found no rea- 
sons for what they did. They only moved. Rose’s Anger? 
and thumb clutching his arm felt like five little bones. 
Her prettified cries in response to the action on the 
field were for him caws for the tumblings of helmeted 
fyesockets, joints, and tendons. The program-vendors 
were selling painted woodpulp, and the scoreboard 
flashed numbers having nothing to do with the pile of 
bones on the chalk lines. 


He hgd to move, and said: “I’ve got to go to the bath- 
room. , 



Part Three 


226 


Under the stands, surrounded by steaming urinals, ci- 
gar smoke, and behatted men with scorecards, he forgot 
the gaihe. He walked out, toward the streetcar line. Be- 
hind him, at intervals, he heard the roars from the sta- 
dium. She must be getting nervous about him now. 

She had been nervous, and so wfs Jack Swan. They 
both made immediate decisions to follow him under the 
stands. As he saw Rose go out, Swan paused. Gladys was 
sitting alone, and he couldn’t resist the temptation to go 
up to her. 

“Congratulations, doll,” he said. “Not every girl has 
her engagement announced in the sports pages.” 

She looked at him without speaking, without interest. 

“The bridegroom had his troubles today,” he said, but 
he was unable to get a rise out of her. In victory or de- 
feat, she ignored him. He had an impulse to court disas- 
ter, to goad her to smash him or tongye-lash him in 
front of all these people, but the thrill was gone. She 
had already sunk into her approaching motherhood. 
Then he saw that Hingham hadn’t come back, and 
headed for the exit. 

Rose caught up with Hal at the streetcar stop. “Hal,” 
she said, "where are you going?” 

He turned without surprise, as if he had expected the 
world to follow him, and had his answer ready. 

“I’m going away,” he said. 

“Why, dear? Where do you want to go?” 

‘To Dr. Modesto. Where people won’t notice me.” 

Rose had no idea what he was talking about. 'She real- 



227 


xxxv Masks Off 

ized at this moment that Hal was virtually a stranger to 
her, and always had been. He was in some kind of tor- 
ment beyond her understanding. His thin, pathetically 
agreeable face wa? averted from her. It was the face of a 
sensitive but mediocre boy of whom civilization had de- 
manded too much, .and he was through — through with 
it. 

“Everybody please let me alone,” he said. 

“Including me, Hal? You want me to leave you?” she 
cried. 

“Yes, I do. I’m not good enough for everybody. I 
haven’t the right. I can’t ask everybody to share my life. 
I’m not worthy, and I broke the law. Forgive me,” he 
said, making for the turnstile. A trolley was coming. 

“Hal, think of me. Not everybody. I love you! I’D 
work, and you won’t have to sell any more insurance. 
Hal ...” 

He boarded the trolley and waved from the window, 
not to her but to everybody in the station. His lips 
formed the words: “Forgive me!” and the car rolled 
aroufid the comer. 

“Oh, God, is it my fault?” Rose wept at the turnstile. 

She was grasped violently by the elbow. “What hap- 
pened? Where is he?” demanded Jack Swan. “I told you 
not to let him out of sight.” 

“No, fs I said, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where 
Mr. Hingham might be,” the desk clerk repeated. 

“But it’s two in the morning,” said the ulcerated man 
before him. He waved the packet he was carrying, as 



Part Thrbb 


228 


though the sight of it would have to improve the clerk’s 
memory. “I’m his public-relations counsel He — does he 
usually*stay out this late?” 

“I wouldn’t know, sir,” replied the clerk, sorting a pile 
of slips. 

“Look. This is — he’s got to—” 

“I believe you 'mentioned before that Xlr. Hingham 
must deliver a speech. But, you see, I don’t know where 
he is.” 

“I’ve been here since seven. There’s no justice in this,” 
Swan whimpered. 

He plucked a ten-doUar bill from his wallet, and 
placed it on the desk in front of the clerk, who looked 
sympathetically at the money. 

The phone made a snickering sound, and the clerk 
answered it in the back office. It was some time before 
he came out. 

“That wasn’t— ” 

“No, sir. But, I tell you — why don’t you take a nap 
and I’ll wake you the moment he comes in.” 

Swan walked unsteadily to a sofa. He huddled 'there 
against a hard green pillow, staring at the ceiling. 

•He was wakened by a gentle tug on the shoulder. The 
desk clerk was bending over him. “Mr. Hingham has just 
gone up to his room,” he whispered. “He’s checking 
out!” 

“Oh, no, he isn’t!” Swan staggered up, bleary-eyed and 
disheveled. The clock across die deserted lobby said it 
was six in the morning. He picked up Sunday papers 
from the reception desk. “Mr. Hingham is staying here 
until tomorrow morning. In the afternoon he makes the 



529 


xxxvi At the Convention 


speech. I’m going to be with him until he does. My 
name’s Swan,” he said, handing the clerk another ten. 
"Hold his room, ^pd put me in with him.” 

On his way up in the elevator, it occurred to Swan 
tfiat what he was doing was something like kidnapping, 
but it was a chance he would have to take. ‘After all,' 
he thought philosophically, ‘an agent can’t steal his own 
property.’ 


Chapter XXXVI At the Convention 


In the anteroom off Convention Hall, 
Fred Purdy had a partial view of the stage and the acre- 
age of tables on the main floor. The delegates were re- 
suming their seats after lunch. Around the hall, banners 
hung from th* balcoqy and wobbling signs and placards 
designated the gathering-places of the state and city 
delegations. The subdued tumult gradually grew louder 
ns the hall filled up. From time to time delegates were 
sumfhoned over the loudspeaker. It was almost two 
o’clock, when the afternoon session would begin. Hing- 
ham was to speak at three. 

There were heavy circles under Fred Purdy’s eyes. He 
had slept poorly after receiving Swan’s first phone call 
Sunday afternoon. It was not that Swan had bad news: 
“I’m with him now, Fred. He’s asleep. We’ve been over 
the speech, and we’ll go through the rest of it tonight. 


Don’t worry. He’s co-operating, and I’m sticking with 
him tmsil we meet you at the hall.” Again in the morn- 
ing, this morning, Swan phoned to say that the situa- 



Part Thru 


230 


tion was under control. Hingham was stronger, and eat- 
ing, and seemed reconciled to making the speech. They 
had practiced reading again, and it had gone well. Swan 
sounded hysterically triumphant. He called attention 
to the “forest lire” of publicity he had created for his 
property in the Sunday and Monday* papers. 

Purdy had gone'' past the point of worryihg about his 
responsibility for the Hingham affair. A deeper worry 
left him slumped in the anteroom. For the first time 
in his life, he felt old and scared. During the past few 
days he had felt like a misfit and had lost his feeling of 
superiority to life. Somewhere, he had slipped. He had 
laughed at Swan and patronized him. Yet this half-edu- 
cated little public-relations man had swept him out of 
his depth, and he was afraid. Swan was a new kind of 
operator, with a breath-taking contempt for people 
that made his own old-hat cynicism seen; like that of a 
fuddy-duddy. 

Bells began to clang around the hall. His program told 
him that Arthur from the home office was to speak^ 
that Collins, also from New York; then Hingham; and 
tKe acting mayor. Purdy sat upright, in surprise. He 
thought he saw Hingham in the New Hampshire dele- 
gation — someone, anyway, walking around like a lost soul 
with his hat on at that peculiar angle. But then another 
delegate removed the chap’s hat and eased him to a seajt. 
Purdy went to the door and made sure that it was 
somebody else — a fellow apparently shaken by an extra 
martini at lunch. 

With the rapping of the gavel, the speeches began. 



231 


xxxvi At fhe Convention 

Purdy, from his vantage point behind the stage, <ha<! a 
rear view of the speaker. The home-office man told a 
mild joke, and the rows of empty faces laughed. ‘How 1 
envy them — they* believe in it,’ Purdy said to himself. 
They were earnest dolts, but they really believed in 
home and mother, jp protecting their loved ones, in the 
rightness of*all these foolish props that held up the life- 
insurance business. If he had felt any such faith in any- 
thing, he wouldn’t have approved the exploitation of 
poor Hingham. 

Time was going by, but he didn’t give -a damn. He 
refused to look at his watch. ‘Poor Hingham, if I had 
only fired you,’ he mused. 

The home-office man sat down to the flapping of many 
hands, .and Collins was introduced. As he got under way, 
Hingham came into the anteroom, followed by Swan, 
who wore an expression of unendurable satisfaction. 
Turning his ^>ack oh the public-relations man, Purdy 
went to Hal and asked: “How are you, boy?” 

“I’m fine, Mr. Purdy,” said Hal. He did feel fine, be- 
cause all he had to do was make one very short speech, 
and he would be free to do as he liked. He woulcfcbc 
able to go away, anywhere, if he wanted to, Jack Swan 
said. Jack Swan had written a wonderful speech for him. 
It was just right, because it would please everybody. 
That was all he had ever wanted to do — please every- 
body. Then they wouldn’t blame him for what he had 
done that day in Bradford. If he read the speech exactly 
as it was written, Jack Swan promised, they would for- 
give him everything. Dr. Modesto would be pleased; he 



Part Three 


232 


<wtfaltt forgive him too. Jack Swan knew. There was not 
even any need to understand the words he was speaking. 
No, no, >it was the material that counted. Hal Hingham 
was as good as his material. 

“Sit down, Hal.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Purdy.” 

"See what I mean, Fred? Am I right?” 

Jack Swan was a fine man. He understood Centralism. 
He had spent the evening reading the Revelations, and 
he was going to book Dr. Modesto on a lecture tour. 
This would be another reason why Dr. Modesto would 
forgive him. 

“How are you feeling, Hal? Want to go to the bath- 
room or anything?" 

“No, thank you,” he said. 

“Look at the press section, Fred. It’s filled.” 

After today, no one would ever possibly laugh at him, 
because they wouldn’t see into htm. They never saw 
into a man who could please everybody, and they never, 
never laughed at him. He heard clapping, and Mr. Purdy 
and Mr. Swan each took him by one arm to the edgje of* 
a gieat lighted stage. He saw the backs of the heads of 
many older gentlemen, one of whom was bowing and 
sitting down. Another gentleman got up, and smilingly 
looked back over his shoulder. ’He’s looking at me,’ Hal 
thought. This distinguished man spoke his name. 

Mr. Purdy and Jack Swan were talking into his ears 
at the same time, but he couldn’t hear them because of 
the clapping. Then Jack Swan put the speech in his 
hands, and pushed him. He crossed the boards in the 
blazing light in front of all the people he was to jfiease, 



zxxvi At \he Convention 


, 2 ” 

so that he would be forgiven, and the gentleman con- 
ducted him to a semicircle of microphones. 

It was terribly quiet, and he was all alone, as he had 
once dreamed, oft Judgment Day. He looked down, as 
Jack Swan had instructed him, and read: 

“My dear friends and fellow underwriters, you 
have honored <ne in such a way as I could never have 
dreamed a few short months ago when I walked into 
the office of Fred Purdy, and asked for his advice 
and help. 

“I assure you that none of you would have blamed 
Mr. Purdy for throwing up his hands and giving up 
on the spot. I was, you might say, a very poor risk.” 

He started walking up and down before the micro- 
phones, with his suit flapping about his thin body. He 
held the speech close to his breast, like a book. He read 
from it fervihtly. He resembled a wrecked evangelist 
rising out of his own ruin through the power of the 
text in his hands, although he didn’t comprehend a word 
of it 


“As one of the fellows at Commonwealth put ft 
at that time: ‘Anyone who tries to teach Hingham 
anything deserves a medal for gallantry above and 
beyond the call of duty.’ But then . . .” 

He paused, terrified by the roaring sound in front of 
him. He saw hundreds of faces laughing at him. Jack 
Swan had promised they wouldn’t, but they were. They 
laughed. because he hadn’t been able to please them. 
The]* tore telling him that he would never be forgiven 



Part ThrsK 


234 


for* being Hal Hingham. He stepped back from the mi- 
crophones, and Jack Swan's speech dropped from his hand. 
He understood now. All these people had come from 
Bradford. They were trying to trap Him. He had sold 
them all policies, but to each one he had been a different 
person. Now they laughed: “Pleads us all!" But he 
couldn’t — not while' they were all together*. That was 
the trap. The only way for him to escape now was to 
stand up to them, let it be in high agony, and say: “I 
am myself, as God made me, and this is the best I can 
do!” 

But he had given himself away. He wasn’t anybody. 

The delegates saw him approach the microphones 
again. He peered among them with his great foolish eyes, 
looking for someone. Those on the west side of the hall, 
near the stage, were able to see two frantic figures in 
the wings trying to obtain Hingham’s attention. The 
gentlemen on the stage exchanged' whispers, and one 
tiptoed forward to pick up the discarded speech and 
hand it to the speaker. Before he could do so, Hingham 
leaned into the microphones and, without wamjng, 
brought them up out of their seats with a despairing 
shout: “Merko!” 

A trembling silence followed. Many of the delegates 
sat down shakily, and reached for handkerchiefs to wipe 
their faces. 

Hingham began speaking in a sing-song: “He’s not here. 
It’s too late. Too late for Hal I’m sorry. He tried to 
be somebody, but he isn’t. That’s all right. I’m sorry, 
Dr. Modesto. I’m coming to see you, and you will for- 
give me beqause I tried. Do you know what killed^me? 



735 xxxvii Ace Salesman FleA Convention Hall 

Life insurance. I hate life insurance, because it is defthi 
if you don’t want to sell it and they make you. I love 
you. Dr. Modesto, and I am coming. I like the new Ford. 
Sorry, Al, your Cflewy is better. Meant to say, Jim, it’s 
Nash. One at a time, but you’re all here. Let me go, and 
Ml be nice. Please!” 

He wandered from the microphones and begged the 
gentlemen on ttie speakers’ platform: “Let me go. 
Everybody has a right to their opinion, if they don’t 
abuse it. I never meant any harm. Love dogs, but not 
the one that dug up your garden. You see?”. 

A rumbling started up in the hall. He felt it coming 
like an express train. The gentlemen on the platform 
were getting up and reaching for him. He ran. They 
couldn’t catch him. He ran into a little room and saw 
his hat on the table, and grabbed it. He escaped be- 
tween Mr. Purdy and Mr. Swan, who had collapsed on a 
table with thlir head! buried in their arms. He went 
out a door, and fell over some cobblestones, and raced 
down an alley. After a while he began skipping, like a 
Roy out of school. 


Chapter XXXVII Ace Insurance Salesman 

Flees Convention Hall 

BAY STATE REGISTER: news of the week 

The annual convention of the Arcadia 
Life Insurance Company was thrown into an uproar at 
Convtihfion Hall last Monday when one of its featured 



Part Thrb'b 


236 


speakers, 28-year-old salesman Hal Hingham, who had 
broken all company sales records this past summer, ab- 
ruptly broke off his address to the delegates and ran 
from the stage. 

Arcadia publicist Jack A. Swan said he attempted to 
restrain Hingham, but the latter broke free and rushed 
out the back door. Police said Hingham had disappeared 
in the network of alleys behind the hall. A search of the 
area revealed no trace of the missing salesman. 

Company officials expressed confidence Monday that 
Hingham would “be at his desk at nine o’clock in the 
morning.” However, Frederick Purdy, director of Arca- 
dia Life’s Commonwealth branch, refused to comment 
on this prediction. Later Swan gave the press an author- 
ized statement from Purdy saying that Hingham had 
only recently recovered from pneumonia and “presum- 
ably suffered a relapse” at the convention hall. 

Witnesses agree that Hingham showed signs of not 
being himself throughout his brief address. Departing 
from his prepared speech, he denounced life insurance 
in general and the Arcadia company in particular, hf 
vqied language, he accused the company of putting 
some kind of pressure on him. 'Delegates close to the 
stage said he ran smiling to the wings. “It was a strange 
smile, as if there wasn’t anything behind it,” said Arnold 
O’Brien of P •jchester, N. Y. Another delegate, Frank 
Moses of Nashua, N. H., said he had seen Hingham this 
night before in the company of Swan at the Circle Ho- 
tel, “looking very badly.” This was denied by the public- 
relations man, who said he had spent the evening at 
home. 



237 xxxvii Ace Salesman Flee ^ Convention Hall 

The story has received considerable attention iji the 
press, partly because of the extensive pre-convention 
publicity given Hingham. He was pictured as a failure 
who had achieved* extraordinary selling results within a 
few weeks through a technique of “self-effacement.” He 
said he had found this technique in the Bible. He had 
appeared on a number of television and radio programs 
just before the convention. 

When Hingham failed to turn up at the Arcadia Life 
office on Tuesday morning, police stepped up their in- 
vestigation of the salesman’s recent movements. Across 
the country there were an unusually large number of 
cases of mistaken identity. Hundreds of persons have 
reported seeing Hingham, but always it was someone 
who wore his hat m the same way, or with a similar 
walk, but not Hingham. A promising lead blew up when 
the “stranger” who called for Hingham at his hotel be- 
fore dawn on- Sunday turned out to have been Jack 
Swan. Pressed by newsmen, he replied: “I’m in enough 
trouble as it is. The whole thing went wrong, that’s all. 
Can’t you fellows give me a break?” 

Reporters have been unable to question Purdy, Hirtg- 
ham’s immediate superior. Purdy was said to have ar- 
ranged for Hingham’s appearance as a convention speaker. 
It was noted that the salesman’s prepared address con- 
tained a tribute to the agency-director as the man who 
Had “insnired” him. 

Purdy's refusal to see newsmen heightened the mys- 
tery aspects of The Hingham Story. On the second day, 
the press became openly suspicious that Arcadia was hid- 
ing something. The vanished salesman was assumed to be 



238 . 


Part Thre,e 

a vicem of hidden pressures. In his “Window on Boston," 
George Stillman led off: 

Monday afternoon you watched a man fall slowly to 
pieces. ... It wasn’t pretty. ... In the beginning, there 
was a human being like yourself. You joined in the ap- 
plause. . . . He starred speaking, anti suddenly you won- 
dered: “Is this the boy they’re all talking about?” . . . 
It was a boy whose speech was rambling and hysterical 
and gradually tortured into some gibberish known only 
to himself. . . . Here’s one observer who wants to know 
what gives. . . . Where is Hal Hingham? 

The gossip columnists have had inside stories. One said 
that Hingham had been placed in a private retreat by 
Arcadia. Another learned that he had recently been 
under a psychiatrist’s care. A third reported that the 
salesman had an incurable disease. 

On Wednesday, a chilly item appeared: t 

. . . Arcadia Life biggies in from New York to nail those 
responsible for Hingham fiasco. . . . 

After three days had gone by, Hingham was still miss- 
ing. Opinion crystallized into the general idea that the 
boy’s breakdown and disappearance were due to Arca- 
dia’s exploitation of a sensitive nature. Clearly, a monu- 
mental public-relations blunder had taken place. 

The column “Nick Hendrix Says” was addressed to one 
of the principals: 



239 xxxvii Ace Salesman Fleh Convention Hall 


you landed the Arcadia Life account, and ovemigHt that 
turned you into a Public Relations Counsel. 

So you were a Public Relations Counsel for a big insur- 
ance outfit. A bigtleal. The razzle-dazzle you used to em- 
ploy for Gypsy Manic and her invisible shawls didn’t go 
any more. No, this was a real respectable affair. You al- 
most forgot you weae a hustler. 

You buttdned, up your pin-stripe so that the yellow 
checkered vest wouldn’t show. But it was there. It had 
to show sooner or later, even if the stunt you pulled sent 
a poor kid into his private oblivion. 

You always had a great sensa humah, Swanee. I have 
a new laugh for you. The Public Relations 'Association 
held a meeting last night. They voted an inquiry into 
your campaign. And let me make a prediction, Swanee. 
When they expel you, not one voice will be raised in your 
defense. After tomorrow, Swanee, you’ll have to go to 
work fbr a living. 

More philosophically, Rex Lieber attributed Hing- 
ham’s sufferings to ttie mounting pressures of the era, 
a country-wide loss of absolute values, and cynical com- 
pany policy. “A publicity man’s dream becomes a night- 
mars,” he wrote, “and the age of public relations claims 
another victim.” 

The Hingham Story reached a plateau of interest •on 
Friday. The Insurance Agents union accused Frederick 
Purdy of tyrannizing over Arcadia underwriters and 
^riving Hingham to a nervous breakdown. A popular 
ministeii, the Reverend Peter Snowden of Hampton, as- 
sailed the company for its unscrupulous and un-Christian 
principles. Hingham’s fiancee, Rose Thatcher, appeared 
on a tejdvision program and made an appeal to him to 
come*bome. Her message has not been answered. 



Part Thua 


240 ' 


Thfc police have no dues to Hingham’s whereabouts. 
Kfe might anywhere. Little more can be said about 
Hal Hingham until he is located or cqmes forward vol- 
untarily to clear up the mystery of his strange flight. 


Chapter XXXVIII Rewards and Punish- 
ments 

Purdy watched Swan bow out of his of- 
fice, but the satisfaction he had looked forward to for 
so many hours didn’t come to him. ‘He took it so well,* 
he meditated. ‘That’s why I didn’t get any pleasure.’ He 
felt a perverse admiration for Swan. The public-relations 
operator had never so much dignity as when he was 
fired. “That’s all right, Fred. No hard feelings.” It must 
have been this same jauntiness that carried him safely 
through the meeting of the Public Relations Associ- 
ation. He had been able to get off without suffering 
a vote of censure or even a reprimand. Swan accepted 
such ups and downs as part of an operator’s career. <‘I’m 
tuSt so resilient,’ Purdy said to himself. 

*He gazed out at the gloomy autumn afternoon. Great 
cold winds were whipping about the sky, and he 
thought: ‘That’s all we’re afraid of — being out in the 
cold.’ He had something to believe in at last — keeping 
warm. It occurred to him that he had just seat Swan 
out to that cold wind. 

He laughed savagely at his somber mood, and asked 
himself since when guilt had entered his life. S\yan had 
fouled Arcadia’s name. The penalty was automatic. 



241 xxxvni Rewardkatd Punishments 

Purdy stared at his barren desk blotter. He couldn't 
get Swan’s dignity out of his mind. The cashiered piib- 
lic-relations man had refrained from embarrassing him 
with the truth that they were equally guilty of spon- 
soring Hingham’s appearance. 

When his time oastf, he too would bow out like a 
sport, to keef> the as-if going. 

The door opened and a man walked in without knock- 
ing. Purdy recognized the narrow bald head and pointed 
jaw. Mr. from the home office. 

“Mr. ” he said, getting up. 

“Blake." 

“Sure! I guess you and I’ve had a world’s record for 
correspondence on that Hingham business. Wasn’t that 
awful? You know, it’s a shame. If you’d been here five 
minutes ago. I just informed Mr. Swan, as per—” 

“Fired him, eh?” the other said. He placed his hat on 
the rack in a certain way. “Blind leading the blind, I’m 
sorry to say.” 

’It hits first in the gut,’ Purdy mused. 

"Somebody’s head, Mr. Purdy— heads roll, you know, 
after a fiasco.” 

“I’m—” 

“I’ve come to relieve you.” 

Tm— ?” 

“Oh, no, not dismissed. The company feels you’re much 
too gocyd a salesman. We’re only relieving you of your 
administrative duties.” 

“You can’t,” said Purdy. They couldn’t deprive a man 
of his w iy of life for one isolated mistake. “Back where I 
started from?” he asked. “An ordinary salesman?” 



242 . 


Part Threap 

•‘We have no ordinary salesmen,” said the man from 
New York. 

Not to* have this office any more. Stripped of his 
genial authority. It wasn’t a game. 

“How about you!” he flared up. “You approved the 
Hingham publicity. I’ve got correspondence to prove 
. . . Just because ydu’re in the home office!” 

“On the contrary, I’ve been demoted to your posi- 
tion. Was that a washroom I saw in the hall?” 

Purdy dwelt mutely on the gunmetal back of his re- 
placement. He turned to the window. He saw dozens 
of salesmen struggling through the bone-chilling wind, 
and thought: ‘It’s cold, for a man my age.’ 

The little church was filled with football-players, as 
well as bridesmaids and flower girls, and a number of old 
people crying happily. The organ played “Oh, Promise 
Me” and soon Gladys came dowrf the aisle. Her volu- 
minous wedding gown flowed across the aisle, and the 
husky bridegroom stumbled over it. He gave vent to a 
whispered imprecation, but then resumed his en^>ar- 
raf&ed grin as they made their way past the pews. As 
Qladys passed Rose, she smiled faintly, and then she was 
gone into the sunlit lawn with Johnny Heffeman, ac- 
companied by an honor guard of his teammates. 

Rose waited in her pew until the last wedding guest 
had left the church. Outside, she felt a tap on her shoul- 
der. It was Jack Swan. He motioned in the direction of 
the bridal party. “Touchdown,” he said. 

She turned away from him. 





•243 


Tfot^h the Curtain 


“What’s the matter? Are you angry with me?” ftet 
asked. 

She stood up and walked slowly away from him, say- 
ing: “I am absolutely contemptuous of you. Don’t speak 
to me.” 

''“Contempt?” he {(gjied, with an edge of excitement 
in his voice. He {pllowed her. “Why? How could I know 
what was going to happen to Hal? Please, don’t turn 
your back. Rose!” 

She continued walking slowly. 

“Let m* r’fke it up to you. I can’t stand your looking 
down on me. I want to see you,” he begged at her shoul- 
der. 

They were on the gravel path together. He was re- 
garding her impudently, and at the same time with a 
sort of obsequiousness. “You and I have a lot in common, 
Rose. If you can’t like me, at least see me now and then.” 

He reminded her df a mouse, nosing around. The way 
he eyed her, she felt her body like a trap. 

“Can I call you, Rose?” 

“All right,” she said. 


Chapter XXXIX Through the Curtain 

The Cornhusker Limited rushed toward 

Omaha. 

“Omaha in twenty minutes!” shouted the conductor 
in the club car, and got no reaction at all. The passengers 



Part ThreK: 


244 * 


had ftted their attention on a curtain of dust and rain 
dfolopiqg to the south. They sipped their drinks and 
declined to look at him. 

‘What a bunch of deadheads,* the conductor said to 
himself. He had noticed the same kind of people in all 
the cars. A lot of guys with vaca^veyes, and they wore 
their hats on a slant. For instance, the felloV in the last 
chair, looking out on the back of the train. His hands 
hung down in a peculiar way. His ticket was in one 
of them. He didn’t move. He simply stared at the re- 
treating landscape. The conductor left, shaking his head. 

From the observation car Hal was watching tracks, 
telephone poles, bushes, the world, receding swiftly and 
endlessly. All the objects he discovered immediately be- 
came smaller and smaller and vanished. All things were 
vanishing in one great flight away from him. As life 
emptied out of him, only the tracks were the same. 

“A nice fellow,” said a man in the club car. 

“Yes, I talked with him. A student.” 

^Hardware salesman,” corrected the other. 

“Pardon me, I happened to talk with him, I said.” 

“Well, so did I, my friend.” 

The old lady sipped her ginger ale with a smile, know- 
ing that the nice boy was going to Broad View to liye 
with his father. 



445 xl Occbfmiional Therapy 

Chapter XL Occupational Therapy 

“So iong as you’re a staff man. I’ll be glad 
to show you around,” the director said. “It’s these free- 
lancers, so-called, that get my ass. The times I’ve rolled 
otit the carpet for guy with no connections at alL 
... I suppose yqu want to know about the Broad View 
System, and Macllwain. What are you, Mr. Files? A sci- 
ence writer?” 

“No,” said the reporter. “I write features — human-in- 
terest stuff. You see, I took my vacation in the East 
this year. I thought if I stopped by on my way back to 
the coast I might pick up a few columns. There’s a lot 
of curiosity about Broad View in our area — with all the 
movie people checking in here, you can imagine. You’ve 
got a lot of human interest here, Mr. Denny. People 
would like to learn how the System works. I’m very 
anxious myself?’ 

“You must be,” said the director in an amused tone. 
“To detour out of your way like this. What did you do? 
1^ak% the branch line from Omaha?” 

“Yes. I hope to get back in time to catch the west- 
bound tonight, if possible.” 

The director heaved himself to his feet. He was an 
obese man, so much so that he was unable to stand erect. 
His abdomen jutted drum-tight from below his belt. 
His expression was one of savage merriment, with a sug- 
gestion of agony, as if a terrible thing was about to 
happen to him if he didn’t empty his bladder soon. Yet 
he pushed the reporter past the men’s-room door, say- 
ing R^fus way, Mr. Files.” 



Part ThrIt 


24tf 

In (the corridor he went on: "You’re probably talking 
tri the tyrong man. I’m strictly a fund-raiser. You need 
somebody with a more romantic apprqpch. Or one of the 
nut specialists. Oh, I’ll take you around, but the man you 
ought to see is Macllwain. You won’t, though. He’s off 
on another lecture tour. Now, them’s a smart operator.” 

The director bared his teeth, and at fhe Same time his 
arm shot out toward a passing nurse, who gave a tiny 
scream and evaded him. Mr. Denny chuckled at his vis- 
itor, whose nervous eyes had sought the wall until the 
nurse was gone. 

"Yes, sir, you’re talking to the wrong man. Of course, 
I can tell you how the Macllwain System works — that’s 
what draws the crowds, all the writers, ever since he 
cured that first movie actor. I mean, I can give you the 
dope, but probably not with the right note of worship 
in my voice. Now, don’t get the wrong impression. I’m 
not knocking Macllwain. Hell, he’s the greatest — ” 

A slant-hatted young man stepped from behind a pil- 
lar and said: "Pardon me, but which way is Dr. Modesto’js 
office?” 

^'Office? Downstairs and around the circle,” the direc- 
tor said, and continued: “Remember, I’m only the fund- 
raiser. Between you and me, sometimes I get pretty 
sick of it.” 

"I’d like to know more about the Macllwain Systenj. 
It doesn’t seem to me that you take it very seriously,” 
the reporter said. 

"Take it seriously! My boy, you’re unjust to me. 
Quickly let me cross myself. I love Macllwain ( and am 
pleased t6 be a humble foot soldier in his crusacu for 



)47 xl Occtitiaf^onal Therapy 

mental health. These lunatics get my ass, that’s all. 4 
can’t help it. I don't like nuts.” 

They approached a small staircase. Mr. Denny labored 
up the steps; his grin was fiercer and merrier. 

“Another thing. Do you think it’s any pleasure to be 
living here surrounded by a community of nuts so far 
from the city? Why couldn’t Macllwain have located 
closer to civilization?” 

“Excuse me, how do I get to Dr. Modesto’s office?” 
inquired the smiling young man. 

Mr. Denny frowned and looked at him, and said: 
“Down two flights and around the circle.” Watching 
the fellow go, he muttered: “I told him once before.” 

“No, that was another one. That one was stocky, and 
this last man was tall and thin. It was the hats, I think,” 
the reporter said. 

“The Macllwain System,” proclaimed Denny with fa- 
cetious granddhr. moved his hands before the re- 
porter’s face in a vulgar imitation of the hypnotist’s art. 
“Treat your patients as if they were normal. Approx- 
ifhatj the conditions of real life. Then let them live 
according to their images of themselves. Within reaswy, 
of course,” the director amended, bitterly imitating the 
tone of a fuddy-duddy scholar. “Give them the tools 
of life. My God, you don’t believe me! These nuts have 
stethoscopes and dictaphones. They have guns. No, they 
aren’t loaded, but how would you like to have these 
creeps go pow and bang at you, and not be able to 
deny that you’re an enemy agent. You saw that post- 
man* who went by just now. He’s not real. He only 
noantuto be a postman, but under the Macllwain System 



hs’s allowed to carry real letters. It gets ridiculous. We 
hpve a bank! An amnesiac embezzler is in charge. The 
craziest ‘goat at Broad View runs the printing-press. 
That’s our philosopher, Dr. Modesto,' the one these fel- 
lows have been asking to see. He actually placed an ad 
in a magazine without our knowing it. Now he gets 
answers. His fans Write him letters! Get the idea? This 
is the Macllwain System in action.” 

“I like it. I like seeing how it works,” the reporter said. 

“Well,” said the director with a sidelong glance at 
him, “you’re only here for a couple of hours. It looks 
fine from the outside — ’’ 

“But Dr. Macllwain obviously answers a big need. Isn’t 
there a waiting list of people all over the country trying 
to get in here?” 

“A waiting list!” said Denny. “They don’t wait. They 
just arrive and expect their poor little personalities to 
be taken care of. We have to shovll them' out of here. In 
the last few months there’s been more and more. Amne- 
sia cases, Macllwain says. The whole goddamned country 
is forgetting itself — ” 

“Will you tell me, please, where can I fincf Dr. 
Modesto?” 

^‘He was the same! The same one who asked before! 
There’s something funny going on,” Denny saicl. “Never 
mind, the Lell with it. I want to show you something 
in this room here. I always get a laugh.” 

They went on through a door into a roomful of 
wandering men in red bathrobes. As they crossed' the 
threshold, Denny thrust his sweaty, fat-creased visage 
into the young reporter’s face and, breathing cldvt, scent 



>49 XL Occupational Therapy 

on him, said with desperate levity: "What I want to 
'know is, who takes care of my personality? Who takes, 
care of a slob?” 

The reporter tuAied away from him. “Look at these 
people! What’s wrong with them?” he asked. 

ha. Here’s the saddest bunch of all,” the direc- 
tor said. “Thg ones wfitt tried to set themselves above 
the rest, and couldn’t make it, and their consciences 
are gradually tearing them apart. They wanted to be 
the big shots. You know, financiers, scientists, writers, 
all that . . 

“What makes that poor man hide his head?” asked 
Files. “Is he afraid?” 

“It’s always so. When strangers come, it scares him,” 
Denny said. 

“And Yiow about that other one who ducked behind 
the couch?” 

“He thinks y%u’ve oime to rob his bank,” said Denny, 
“and he’s left the vaults unlocked. I’ll show you some- 
thing now. Don’t think it’s cruel, because their mem- 
offes are shot and two minutes from now they won’t 
remefiiber that I spoke to them. 

“Hey, Mr. Malcolm, how’s that great novel coming?” 
Denny shouted. 

The man covered his head and groaned. 

“George! Hey, George Conrad, how’s the interna- 
tional banker.” 

And this man turned away in agony. 

Denny stopped. “There’s something going on here.” 
Tie v^as staring beyond the banker and the novelist. 

there they are,” whispered the reporter. 



Part Thr^ 256 

Tjvo more smiling, slant-hatted strangers were ap- 
proaching them from the other end of the ward. 

Denny seized the reporter by the elbow and tamed 
him around, and there were three gentle young men 
behind them. 

And then they were surrounded and five gentle par- 
don me’s fell on their ears, antf the same question came 
from the lips of all the young men: 

“Where can I find Dr. Modesto?” 

Denny lowered his head and walked away, grunting and 
straining for speed, followed by six young men. 

He went down in an elevator full of strangers— all 
smiling, vacuous young men. 

In die corridors dozens of them were emerging from 
behind pillars. 

He heard shouts that came closer. There ‘was the 
sound of trampling. Nurses and ward boys were running 
through die corridors crying out:' 

“Mr. Denny!” 

“Mr. Denny!” 

“Mr. Denny!” 

The young men in slanted hats were piling up in front 
pf Modesto’s cell. Dozens more, just alike, were joining 
them every minute. The cell bars rattled like hail. 
Through the crowd Denny caught a glimpse of the 
flashing eyes, the beard, and Dr. Modesto’s thunderous 
voice commanded him: “Let my sons in! Let my sons 
in!”